David and Tamela Mann, stars of BET’s new reality series It’s a Mann’s World, are no strangers to cable TV. The husband-and-wife team starred in the Tyler Perry-produced sitcom Meet the Browns, which debuted on TBS in January of 2009 with 4 million viewers, at that time the second-most-watched cable sitcom premiere ever. It’s a Mann’s World, which follows the Manns’ real-life blended family, premiered Jan. 14 to more than 1 million viewers, well above BET’s primetime viewer average of 690,000 for last year.
Programming editor R. Thomas Umstead caught up with David and Tamela Mann on the set of their new Bounce Television sitcom, Mann & Wife, for a chat about their BET reality show, the legacy of Meet the Browns and how they balance work and home life.
MCN: Given your success on the scripted cable front through Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns, why did you decide to move over to the reality arena?
David Mann: At first, we didn’t want to do reality, but when BET assured us that it would be done right, in good taste, and that we would have some creative control to tell our story and how we do things in the Mann household, we decided to go ahead with it.
Tamela Mann: We’re not trying to paint a picture of a perfect family with the series. We have issues as well, but we’ve been married for 26 years and hopefully we’ve spread some of our love and compassion onto other people with their families.
MCN: Was your reluctance to participate in a reality series also due to the salacious reputation the reality genre has earned over the years?
TM: What we were afraid of are our kids, because my kids will say anything, so that made me really reluctant. (Laughs.) We talked to them about it and told them that we’re sharing our different points of view.
DM: Our kids are unfiltered, so we never know what they’re going to say out of their mouths.
MCN: What do you want to accomplish through the show?
TM: Our message we wanted to get out is, [there’s] hope for families to stay together. There are always going to be issues — it doesn’t matter who you’re with, but you have to work through it and hang in there. Don’t quit on each other, because family is all you have.
DM: We’re a blended family, and we wanted to show the people how we work our blended family and how we handle things. There are situations in our family that come up, but we handle them a little differently. You’ll see some tears being shed, but some way and somehow, at the end, we end up loving each other and laughing about something.
MCN: Do you find the experience of developing a reality series like It’s a Mann’s World more difficult that working on a scripted series like Meet the Browns?
DM: They’re both equally tough. We shot It’s a Mann’s World over an eight-week period, and after eight weeks I said, “I want these cameras out of here!” (Laughs.)
TM: Having people right in your home and in your face was totally different. I kind of psyched myself up with the fact that this is what I agreed to, and this is what we have to do, and [by] remembering that this is about helping others. It’s not about us, but it’s about helping other people.
MCN: What other projects are you working on?
DM: We’re on the set of our new sitcom titled Mann & Wife. It’s a sitcom where I no longer have to play her father. [In Meet the Browns, David Mann played Leroy Brown, the father of Tamela’s character, Cora Simmons.] I finally get to play her husband. We’re sharing some things from our real-life marriage in the sitcom as well. It’ll be released this spring on Bounce Network.
MCN: How influential do you think Meet the Browns was in ushering in other predominately African-American sitcoms, such as Black-ish or Instant Mom?
DM: I think it was very important. What it did was open up doors for more shows. They saw that these shows can bring in advertisers and bring in those dollars. I’m grateful and glad that a lot of shows are winning out there. My philosophy is, if one wins, we all win. A lot of time we hope that my show does better than theirs, but I believe if one of those shows does well, whether it’s Black-ish or Empire, we all win.