After a chance meeting with former president of NBC, Bob Wright, Jubba Seyyid jumped into the television business by way of the prestigious NBC Page Program in New York assisting Mr. Wright. Working his way up the production ladder, Seyyid became one of NBC News’ youngest field producers on staff at the age of 23. However, hard news was not the lead story in Seyyid’s life, so he flipped the script and made the transition to daytime television and eventually other scripted and reality television shows.
After several years of producing shows for networks like MTV, CBS, and Fox, the Emmy nominated producer took on a more executive role at TV One in his current position where he oversees TV One hit shows such as Unsung, Lisa Raye: The Real McCoy, R&B Divas, and the new upcoming comedy Belle’s.
Soultrain.com caught up with Jubba Seyyid to discuss his journey in television and how TV One hopes to change the landscape of the black comedy genre.
Soultrain.com: It’s interesting that you got your start in hard television news. What made you want to transition to a different television medium?
Jubba Seyyid: I had the opportunity to work in the number one market in New York at WNBC for 2 years and it was exciting. I was basically the general bureau chief for one of the satellite offices in New Jersey, so I had about three reporters that I would assign different stories to. I learned so much there in terms of writing, investigations, and research. One of the things that I started noticing was that the newsroom got excited about tragic stories like deadly plane crashes. I had a lot of stuff thrown at me–like trying to talk to someone in the midst of their grief just to get the story–so you learn how to navigate those difficult situations, but it was not exciting to me. I know there are people that love hard news and love those types of stories, but those stories were not for me, so I knew at that point I had to make a transition.
Soultrain.com: How did you eventually make that transition out of the news business completely?
Jubba Seyyid: I made the transition from news by using some of the connections that I had. I went to a daytime talk show, Rolanda, back when the daytime talk show wars were going strong. It was during the OJ Simpson scandal and it was a little easier to make the transition because that was a bit news-related, so that’s where my expertise came in.
Soultrain.com: So, after you hit the talk show circuit, how did you get to your current position at TV One?
Jubba Seyyid: I was actually reading the trades when I was working on Rolanda. I knew that I wanted to move to Los Angeles and make a full push towards entertainment. I was reading the Hollywood Reporter and saw this guy that I had interned for had become a show runner for the new show called Vibe. I made a few phone calls to track him down and he just happened to answer when I called his office, so I said, “Well, I don’t know if you remember me. My name is Jubba and I interned for you about 4 years ago at David Letterman.” I figured he would probably remember me because I don’t know how many Jubbas he would know [laughs]! Long story short, he remembered who I was and he told me he didn’t have any producer jobs but if I wanted, I could be a researcher. I moved to LA, and after about a year I started networking, which is how I landed in what was really the start of the reality television boom. My first reality show was Elimidate. As the reality thing became bigger and bigger and other shows started popping up, I started working on shows like Trading Spouses, Black /White, and Big Brother. After 12 years I started to get burned out with all the traveling and working anywhere from 14 to 16 hour days. After awhile I figured I needed to go behind the desk or find the best balance where I can still be creative and affect what we see on the screen.
Soultrain.com: It’s interesting that you say that you figured the guy at Vibe probably wouldn’t know too many people with your name. Is there a story behind how you got your name?
Jubba Seyyid: I have parents that were apart of the pan-African movement. The thing with my parents is they didn’t want me to have a slave name, so when I was born, they gave me an afrocentric first name and even changed my last name. So I don’t have the last name of my father’s father or even my father. My last name, Seyyid, means “happy,” and my first name means “king,” so I’m the “Happy King.” It was important for my parents to name their child something to live up to.
Soultrain.com: It seems like you are living up to your name with all of your television experience and accomplishments! Let’s talk programming. What’s the process of picking programming for TV One?
Jubba Seyyid: Well first, with any channel, you have to really identify who your audience is. TV One was started because there was a void to fill in the medium, because there was just BET, the only real offering for African Americans, and it was a younger audience at that time and still is. What Ms. Cathy Hughes and her son [Alfred Liggins] did was create this network for a more mature audience and create programming that we could be proud of. They were looking at the audience that wasn’t really being dealt with–ages 25 to 54, with the sweet spot being 40 years old and female. Our audience is 60% female and 40% male, so in determining how we pick shows, we know that the core of our audience is 40 year old women, and then we need to select programming that they are going to be interested in. Whenever I get a pitch, whether it is a scripted show or reality show or even scripted show about crime, it has to be appealing to that audience. Identifying who your audience is and servicing them is the most important thing.
Soultrain.com: Let’s get back to this “sweet spot” that you mentioned. How did you determine that?
Jubba Seyyid: Well, the sweet spot refers to the majority. For instance, if our demographic is mostly 25 to 54 year old women, then the majority in that category watching is about 40 years old. So that’s the sweet spot. We have to figure out what they like, what matters to them–is it family, children, sex, or drama? One of the things that we have learned is that women like crime and justice dramas, so we pay attention to that and look to see what we can put on our channel to make viewers happy and have them tuning in everyday.
Soultrain.com: With the emergence of a lot of web series popping up online, does that affect TV One’s viewership? Does TV One plan to start doing web series productions?
Jubba Seyyid: No. Our audience is a little older so their online presence isn’t as strong; however, we find that it is changing. Eventually, we may tackle a web series, but right now our audience is just getting acclimated with accessing music online. Not saying that they are old, but for people under 40 certain parts of digital media are just a fabric of their lives and it’s slowly working into the fabric of the older generation’s lives. We’re not seeing the same kind of presence of the older generation watching content online as the younger viewers. So we would need to get our audience on board and find some value in going that direction before we look into that.
Soultrain.com: Do you have a say in the artists/groups picked for shows like Unsung?
Jubba Seyyid: Unsung is one of the shows that I manage, so I pow-wow constantly with the team here at TV One and with the producers on the production team at A. Smith, who actually produce the show for us. I have a list of artists on my desk now that I’m constantly playing with. That’s one of the critical jobs that I have, selecting those artists. We discuss and figure out who we want to go after. Sometimes not everyone you go after agrees to do the show, so I get a lot of viewers that often ask why we haven’t done this person or that person and often times they have been approached and declined.
Soultrain.com: Can we expect a new season of R&B Divas?
Jubba Seyyid: We have a hit show on our hands so yes, we are certainly looking forward to a season 2. I just saw the ladies and they are very excited.
Soultrain.com: What about the new show Belle’s? What stood out about that particular show to bring it to the network?
Jubba Seyyid: One of the things that was important to us when it comes to comedy was to do something to write smarter, produce smarter, and faster and more fun comedy. What we didn’t want to do was to recreate the same cookie cutter comedy that we had seen before on other networks, especially referring to black comedies. We wanted to elevate the genre. We want to change the face of comedy so it can evolve and become the gold standard like shows such as Modern Family and Big Bang Theory. So if that’s what we’re calling the gold standard of comedy shows on other networks, then we need to make sure TV One keeps up and has the same kind of comedies. It’s going to be very different than what you’ve seen before and we just hope the audience likes it. We’re excited about it.
SoulTrain.com: The show Belles has some powerhouse names behind it. How did that play a part in picking the show up?
Jubba Seyyid: The co-creator of the comedy show, Ed Weinberger, has an amazing history of TV shows under his belt from The Cosby Show to Taxi–he’s a veteran to the nth degree, and to work with a guy like that who tells amazing stories just fueled our desire to take comedy to the next level. When you have stars like Keith David, Elise Neil, Ella Joyce–these are veterans of television and film so we’re winning with that type of cast.
Soultrain.com: As far as writers go, there is always that speculation that new writers can’t break into the industry because all of the jobs keep going to the veterans in the business. What’s your advice for those writers?
Jubba Seyyid: One piece of advice is very cliché. Everyone can claim they want to be a writer because they have good ideas, but the best way to be a writer is to write. You have to write whatever your heart is telling you to write. Also, take classes if you haven’t done that yet. Just because you can write doesn’t make you a good writer. There’s a technique involved, you have to know it for writing scripts and the best way to educate yourself is to take classes. For those that already know how to write and have scripts in hand, the hardest part is getting in the door. The best thing to do is to network. You also have to get an agent, because your agent is who is going to get your stuff to the right executive. So it’s doubly difficult if your content is strictly geared toward African Americans because there aren’t many outlets for that genre, so you’re competing with a lot of people for a small amount space. I would suggest writing to a broad audience just to get in the door, and once you’re in the door, then you can narrow your focus on what you want to write about. If you’re a good writer, you’ll be noticed, it’s a grind.
Soultrain.com: That’s great advice. Lastly, do you have any favorite memories of Soul Train?
Jubba Seyyid: Soul Train is so deep. It wasn’t just a fabric of our people; it was a fabric of my Saturday afternoons with my family. No matter what you were doing or where you were, you stopped what you were doing to get in front of the TV to watch the show. From trying to figure out the scramble board to watching the new dances, I was always trying to pick up new dances. Any black family reunion, wedding or party that I’ve been to, they always have a Soul Train line going. It’s just a fabric of our society.
Follow Jubba Seyyid on Twitter on @Jubbaman.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Vibe, Creative Loafing, or her own site, www.themofochronicles.com. She’s also a special guest contributor on The Social Hour on Urban Soul Radio. Follow her on Twitter @mofochronicles.