VH1 is venturing further into scripted development and bringing on fresh acting talent in a bid to woo a young female audience.
The Viacom cable network, known for unscripted shows such as “Behind the Music” and “I’m Married to A…,” premiered its second scripted series, “Hit the Floor,” May 27. In addition, it’s readying a biopic about the group TLC titled “Crazy Sexy Cool” and has more scripted content on the horizon.
“I feel like a lot of cable channels now are making their claim of doing scripted, and it’s not easy,” Jill Holmes, VH1’s senior vice president, West Coast production and development, told Backstage. “We played with it for a long time, but once you find the formula that works with your audience, then it gets a lot more exciting.”
The cable net started its latest scripted foray with “Single Ladies,” an hourlong drama that began as a backdoor pilot in 2011 and was renewed last year for a third season. The network used that model for “Hit the Floor,” an hourlong dramedy that follows a fictional professional basketball dance team called the Devil Girls, which went straight to series from the pilot.
“Our core audience is a young female audience, and I feel like this show is perfect for them,” said Holmes. “If they’re watching ‘Nashville,’ if they’re watching ‘Revenge,’ if they’re watching ‘Scandal,’ they’d love this show.”
Being new to scripted development, VH1 doesn’t have a stable of actors to draw from when casting its series. That has allowed newcomers such as Taylour Paige, a former Laker Girl who plays Ahsha, to capture lead roles.
“I have three black women as leads on my show,” said James LaRosa, a former tennis journalist and the creator of “Hit the Floor.” “I don’t really know where else I’d be able to do that in a show with this kind of production value. We have a nice diverse cast.”
Veteran performers such as Kimberly Elise, Charlotte Ross, and Dean Cain, who plays the basketball team’s head coach, round out the cast.
Despite the popularity of dance dramas onscreen and on Broadway, LaRosa said the series was difficult to cast, in part because it required performers who could act and dance like professional cheerleaders.
“Casting our young dancer leads was like finding four little Scarlett O’Haras,” he said. “It was brutal. We saw hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of girls.”
The two-part audition involved acting first, then dancing.
“Not only did they have to dance; they had to act, they had to look like they could live in this world, and they had to embody the character,” he said. “To get somebody who could tick all those boxes was rough.”
In-house VH1 casting directors Romy Stutman and Stacy Alexander cast the pilot. For the series, “Hit the Floor” producers turned to casting directors Lisa London and Catherine Stroud.
“We cast out of L.A. and New York primarily, but the harder and the longer it took to cast these roles, the wider the scope got. Then it was Canada; then we were getting tapes from around the world,” said LaRosa.
Elise, who plays the mother of Paige’s character, was a “measuring stick” for the rest of the talent, he added. “I needed to have women who I could put in a scene with her and not drown.”