ATLANTA — Starting tonight, ABC News will begin airing what the network believes is the first prime-time broadcast newsmagazine focused on Black life in America.
“Soul of a Nation” will be centered on a theme, such as spirituality, activism in sports and the racial reckoning triggered by George Floyd’s death. Journalist Jemele Hill and actor Marsai Martin of “Black-ish” are among the guest hosts.
Channel 2′s Fred Blankenship spoke with ABC’s Bryon Pitts on Tuesday about the groundbreaking show.
“Soul of a Nation” premieres TONIGHT at 10 p.m. on Channel 2, followed by WSB Tonight at 11 p.m.
“I think it’s an opportunity in a cinematographic kind of way to continue the conversation we’re having in the nation, but also to connect the dots as to why things that we see and experience today are connected to things that happened in the past,” Pitts said.
“In this critical moment of racial reckoning, ‘Soul of a Nation’ travels across the country, unpacking issues critical to Black Americans through intimate storytelling. Every episode will bridge the past, present and future through a variety of voices and experiences from athletes, entertainers, performers and screenwriters,” ABC News said about the show.
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Besides stories by ABC News journalists, episodes will present a variety of voices including Carmelo Anthony, Nick Cannon, Danny Glover, David Alan Grier, John Ridley, Saweetie and Janaya Future Khan.
In each episode, familiar faces - performers, activists, scholars and clergy – will gather for an entertaining and provocative conversation “in the kitchen” about current events. A special performance featuring some of the nation’s greatest musicians, such as Emmy, Tony and Grammy award winner Cynthia Erivo, or spoken word artists will close out each episode.
The network saw Black viewership soar last year during programming that explored the aftermath of Floyd’s death and a two-hour “20/20” special on Breonna Taylor, said Marie Nelson, series creator and ABC News’ senior vice president of integrated content strategy. ABC also did specials on Juneteenth and disparities involving race and class during the pandemic.
Still, at least half of the audience for several of these programs was white, she said. It illustrates the opportunity to both speak to a Black audience and educate others about what is going on in the community.
“We refer to the show oftentimes as a news-variety show,” Nelson said.
While only six episodes at first, Nelson said there’s a possibility “Soul of a Nation” could be expanded in the future.
“As we produce these six hours, it’s very clear to us every single day that it could be 600 hours of television,” she said.
ABC News and the Associated Press contributed to this article.