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Banking on 50 Cent

Colby Gaines, exec producer of new 50 Cent-fronted BET show 50 Central, tells Ryan Watson about the programme plus his company’s scripted ambitions.

Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson’s acting roles include a part in Starz drama Power

It’s a big week for New York prodco Back Roads Entertainment. Tomorrow sees the launch of its new late-night variety format on BET, the Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson-fronted 50 Central.

The 24×30’ show includes comedy sketches, hidden-camera pranks and candid social experiments, with the rapper, actor and entrepreneur orchestrating the antics. There will also be a slew of celebrity appearances and up-and-coming musical acts performing in what the people behind the programme say will feel like a party in front of a studio audience.

50 Central marks a first foray into scripted entertainment for Back Roads, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the confidence of the company’s founder and executive producer, Colby Gaines, who has a feeling he’s about to hit the jackpot.

“People are going to love some of the stuff we did,” Gaines says. “In the first episode we have a hidden camera prank that’ll blow you away. I would bet that it goes viral. It’s so good and so strong. The sketches are really funny, too. We built it to give us the strongest chance of success.”

The show is produced with BET parent company Viacom and was an original concept by G Unit Film & Television. Gaines says the cable network embraced his firm’s angle of pitching 50 Cent as an instigator from the off, coming up with the tagline ‘starting shit’ for the show.

Colby Gaines

“It’s truly endemic to 50’s brand. We came in and said, ‘What is he known for?’ And one thing he’s known for is instigating. He always does that tongue-in-cheek. No matter what he says, no matter how outrageous he is, people just go, ‘Oh that’s just 50’ and laugh it off,” Gaines continues.

“Fifty is one of the nicest guys. He kind of throws you through a loop when you first meet him, as this guy is softly spoken, insightful and sweet, but everybody’s perception is that he’s a tough guy. He is actually very inclusive and is all about breaking talent and making a mark.”

Making a mark is exactly what the exec is hoping 50 Central will do when it debuts tomorrow night, with Back Roads also lining up a raft of other new entertainment programming to unleash in the coming weeks. Gaines says his new strategy is celebrity-focused, and a second project with Jackson, focusing on the world of business, is already in the works.

“We had 50 Central set up with BET and the other is in the pilot stage and is looking very good,” he muses. “It’s a totally different genre. His company, G-Unit Film & Television, has a number of projects in development. We’re working on a lot of comedy together and have proved we can do it better than most.”

Back Roads has so far seen success with unscripted comedy shows such as Joking Off (MTV/MTV2), which celebrates social media and improvised comedy; Culinary Beats, a Yahoo! show pairing top chefs with musical acts as they discuss their interests while preparing food; and Cooking Channel’s Big Bad BBQ Brawl, which follows Brooklyn chef Shannon Ambrosio as he hits the road to test his skills against the best.

Joking Off focuses on social media culture

With so much experience in unscripted, why the move into a more structured format, and is there any trepidation over stepping away from the formula? Gaines says the move is a natural progression in his quest to eventually produce a sitcom.

“My dream in the entertainment business is to be in comedy, and in the last three years I’ve done the best I could to build out a strategy. We have got bigger with Joking Off every year for three years and it really got us a half step into the fully scripted environment. A sitcom isn’t too far away now,” he says.

“But it doesn’t mean I’ve left all the unscripted roots or projects behind; we still have a lot in development and greenlit. I enjoy that too and I love lifestyle.”

Alongside Joking Off’s growth, Back Roads itself has doubled in size in each of the past three years. And with the charisma and star power of 50 Cent – who has more than 50 million followers on social media in the US and over 11 million in the UK – 50 Central looks set to take the firm to new heights.

Now the plan is to prioritise scripted comedy and celeb-driven entertainment, as well as international success. “Nothing helps like a hit,” says Gaines. “We all think we have something special, and fingers crossed we do.”

Considering BET went from an initial 12-episode commission to an order of 24, it seems everyone’s money is on the show being a winner.

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