MS. REBECCA SHEIR
And now from real life drama to drama on the screen.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We're talking soap operas. And Anthony Anderson, a native of Southeast, D.C., he says he pretty much grew up on them.
MR. ANTHONY ANDERSON
Because, of course, coming home from school, you couldn't watch cartoons until the soap operas went off.
A couple of decades later, in addition to holding down a steady job as a government contractor, Anderson is producing, writing and starring in an internet soap opera about his hometown neighborhood, Anacostia. Emily Friedman gives us the lowdown on, "Anacostia," the series.
MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN
Until about a year ago, Anthony Anderson did not know he was famous. He was on a trip to Los Angeles and his first night there, he and his cast mate Marion went out.
We were standing in line to get into this club and, all of a sudden, oh, my God, oh, my God. So, you know, we're just standing there looking around like, where's the camera because we're about to see a famous person, and the girl runs across the street. She's like, oh, my God, you're in, "Anacostia." And Marion and I looked at each other with our mouths open like, you've got to be joking.
Anderson was surprised, but admits he'd been fantasizing about that moment for a long, long time. He's always wanted to be an actor so a few years ago he signed on with an agent.
And she sent me out on some auditions with "The Wire."
That's, of course, the gritty HBO drama about life in Baltimore, lots of drugs, cops, city corruption. When Anderson met with the show's casting director...
The casting director said, okay, well, he's not ghetto enough. And I was like, what is ghetto?
After all, Anderson points out, he grew up in an Anacostia housing project.
And I guess she meant that I wasn't imposing. So I just put my own script together and never looked back.
Unlike "The Wire," this project was going to be fun.
There would be those one-line zingers that were going to, like, have people say, oh, no, she didn't, or, if that was me, I would have slapped her.
In other words, a soap opera. What Anderson came up with is sort of like "Desperate Housewives" meets "Sex and the City" with the slightest hint of "C.S.I.," a bunch of couples all living in the same neighborhood getting into each other's business. There's no budget for the show. Everyone works for free, apart from the editor who gets a few hundred dollars per episode.
It's an entirely African-American cast and it takes place all around D.C. though mostly in Anacostia.
I knew by naming it "Anacostia," people were going to have a preconceived notion of what the show was going to be. That it was going to be hood and ghetto and full of drug dealers and prostitutes like a mini Beirut.
Anderson doesn't play up Anacostia's reputation, but he doesn’t downplay it either. People are killed in drive-by shootings. One of the neighbors runs a prostitution ring out of her house. Anderson says his goal basically is to be honest.
Skirting around the issues would be a lie. The truth is there are problems in Anacostia. But guess what? There are problems in Montgomery Country. There are problems in PG County. There are problems in Alexandria.
Anderson says it's not the setting, but the show's characters that keep viewers coming back for the next episode.
MR. ROGER NEWCOMB
I think people can see themselves in some of these characters and they don't see themselves in a lot of TV shows.
Roger Newcomb runs a New York-based website called, "We Love Soaps." It's an online hub for those who, well, love soaps. He defines soaps as any sort of continuing storyline and most people, he says, want to follow characters they identify with.
Think about broadcast television, I mean "Anacostia" probably has more black characters than all of CBS.
Newcomb says that's helped "Anacostia" climb in popularity. It's now one of the top five most popular independent soaps out there. People have watched the series from 96 countries. And it's starting to get a whole lot of recognition right here in D.C.
OK, are we together?
In the Smithsonian's Anacostia Museum, Anthony Anderson is preparing for his close up.
Do I look chunky?
The Museum is interviewing him for an exhibit for artists working east of the river. When asked if he feels proud of how he has represented his hometown, he says, absolutely.
I mean, you have people from coast to coast talking about a little place called Anacostia. They want to see what is this, "Anacostia" that people keep talking about? And I think the show is starting to have people look at this area in a different way and they come away like, wow. That is so not what I expected.
Although it does seem to be working, Anderson says raising Anacostia's profile is only a secondary goal. His first priority is pure entertainment.
When an episode comes out and everyone is on Twitter, it's so funny to sit there and be pulling up "Anacostia - The Series," like, oh, my God, I can't believe that she did this. I am so mad at this character.
Which is exactly the reaction he's been going for right from the start. I'm Emily Friedman.
To see episodes from season one and two of, "Anacostia, the series," check out our website metroconnection.org.
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