Tonight, ABC anoints its Queens — and we’ve got the scoop on the musical drama from the man who created it.
The series follows four women who were in a 1990s R&B/hip-hop group as they reunite in the present day. Real-life musical heavy hitters Eve and Brandy play two of the roles.
“We built a really solid season to start that keeps the show in the world of the pilot, of the fun and heightened reality, and then… we’re going to give you some special music and music videos,” executive producer Zahir McGhee says. “You won’t be able to predict what an episode looks like week to week, which I’m excited about.”
Without further ado, allow McGhee to walk you through the Queens premiere, which airs tonight at 10/9c on ABC.
WHO’S IN THE CAST | In addition to Brandy and Eve, the series stars Naturi Naughton (Power) and Nadine Velazquez (Major Crimes, The League).
‘A PARTY EVERY WEEK’ | McGhee says the idea for the series first came to him years ago, but didn’t fully coalesce until he was watching Verzuz battles during the pandemic. As he took in the streaming events, in which two well-known acts battle each other musically, “I just loved the feeling of it, the party of having these old acts and then talking to your friends from college,” he tells TVLine. “I twas this communal thing that we were watching during the pandemic, and I was like, ‘I want to have a party every week.’ So that was the general idea for what I wanted for the mood and the style of the show and the music.” Prolific producer Swizz Beatz, who co-created Verzuz, eventually signed on as the show’s executive music producer.
FINDING THE NASTY BITCHES | Filling the roles of the show’s central group — which went by the name Nasty Bitches in the ’90s — probably should’ve been harder than it turned out to be. “The initial idea was, two out of the four I wanted to be people who actually had done it and had a musical background,” McGhee recalls. “The Number 1 person on my mind was Eve.”
After the former The Talk co-host showed significant interest (she’d eventually take on the part of Brianna, aka Professor Sex), McGhee turned his thoughts to another ’90s standout. “Brandy was percolating in the news. [Her album] B7 had just come out. She did this huge profile in the Washington Post, and the way she talked about her career and where she was in her career felt so much like Naomi” — aka Nasty Bitches’ Xplicit Lyrics — “and I was like, ‘This all feels right, too.'” A short while later, “Brandy became my first pandemic houseguest,” the EP recalls, laughing. “I was like, ‘This is so crazy. I haven’t seen people in eight months, and now Brandy’s swinging by baby around in my backyard.'”
Eventually, Naughton — who was a member of the early 2000s girl group 3LW — signed on as Jill/Da Thrill, and Velazquez took the role of Valeria/Butter Pecan.
ENSURING THE STORY SLAPS | Queens hits the soapy drama sweet spot: deeply interesting characters engaged in heightened shenanigans. (Two of the women, for instance, have a romantic history with the man who used to manage their group; another is a recovering drug addict who has turned to God in the years since the band’s breakup.) “I grew up during a decade in Shondaland, so the idea of two people talking about things that don’t do anything or doesn’t drive the story forward, it’s just not something I know a lot about,” says McGhee, who worked on Scandal, Private Practice and For the People. “What we want to show, it’s about having a good time and seeing these women realize that they have these issues with one another, but in the end they need each other,” he adds. “Ultimately their friendship is always going to trump the past and the drama.”
THROWBACK TUESDAY | The series premiere gives viewers a healthy visual dose of what the Nasty Bitches were up to back in the day (think Champagne-and-pyrotechnics music videos) and McGhee says more is coming, thanks to some extra retro scenes filmed for Episode 1. Also: “Episode 2 will give people what they’re craving after the pilot, which is more context and more history about the rise and the fall of the group,” he previews.