WHAT: The New Edition Story, a three-night miniseries airing on BET January 24-26.
WHO: Directed by Chris Robinson, written by Abdul Williams and executive produced by Jesse Collins. Stars Bryshere Y. Gray of Empire fame, Elijah Kelley, Keith Powers, Algee Smith, Woody McClain and Luke James.
WHY WE CARE: One of the biggest challenges of making a biopic about a group—as opposed to a solo music artist—is getting everyone involved to even agree to one version of the truth. So screenwriter Abdul Williams spent a year interviewing the members of New Edition—Ricky Bell, Mike Bivins, Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe, and Johnny Gill, who ultimately replaced Brown—as well as manager/choreographer Brooke Payne, and after hearing everyone's side of the story, he was able to mesh all of their memories into a screenplay for The New Edition Story that offers a thorough chronicle of their history as New Edition, feels honest and gives you an appreciation of what these guys have accomplished as artists.
The engaging initial installment focuses on the early days of New Edition, showing how five boys from Boston's Roxbury neighborhood became a group under the tutelage of Payne (played by Wood Harris), scored a record deal, had a big hit with the release of "Candy Girl" in 1983 and came home from a tour expecting to be able to move their families out of the projects only to find out they weren't making any money because of a bad record deal.
Near the end of part one, The New Edition Story transitions to the adult cast, and parts two and three of the miniseries depict the group's continuing battles with record executives as well as internal discord that leads to Brown being ousted in 1985 and replaced by Gill only to return in the early 1990s for a rocky reunion tour before they all go their separate ways. The miniseries ends in the mid-aughts with New Edition getting back together to perform at BET's 25th-anniversary special.
Before the cameras rolled, the child and adult actors were put through a three-week boot camp during which they learned New Edition's songs and choreography, and it paid off—they all come across as natural and confident when they are performing New Edition's music and dance routines.
Working with the likes of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, who produced songs for New Edition back in the day, the cast recorded new renditions of hits like "Candy Girl," "Telephone Man," "Cool It Now," "If It Isn't Love," and "Can't Stand The Rain," as well as "Every Little Step," a song Brown recorded as a solo artist, and these songs are adeptly staged in the miniseries—as rehearsals, concert sequences and music video remakes—by director Chris Robinson, who has shot music videos for the likes of Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, and Usher.
BET's most ambitious original production to date, The New Edition Story was a mammoth, intricate undertaking, and the more than a decade that executive producer Jesse Collins spent shepherding this labor of love to the screen was worth it. It's a vibrant celebration of a group that paved the way for boy bands like New Kids on the Block, Boyz II Men, Backstreet Boys, and *NSYNC and led to the spinoff Bell Biv DeVoe and successful solo careers for Brown and Tresvant.