Courtney Kemp has caught the brass ring with her Starz series, and here’s her insightful take on her carousel ride:
by Rawiya Kameir
When the second season of Power aired last August, more than 4.4 million people tuned in to find out what twisted direction the crime drama would take. That number — double the viewership recorded for its debut the previous year — was a record for Starz, a cable network whose flagship original series is a historical time travel show set in the Scottish Highlands. Power, by impressive contrast, is a glamorous guns-and-gangs procedural set across New York City clubs, penthouses, and outer boroughs, played out through the web of its characters’ messy relationships and ambitions.
It was created by first-time showrunner Courtney Kemp, a former GQ writer who left journalism and transitioned into TV, eventually spending several years writing for the beloved CBS drama The Good Wife. Notably, the show is co-executive produced by 50 Cent, who stars across Omari Hardwick as a grimy antagonist. Season three of Power returns to Starz on July 17; ahead of its premiere, we talked to Kemp about empathy, race, and the American dream.
This is your third year with the characters of Power. How do you continue to treat them with empathy? How do you bring that consideration into the writers’ room?
It’s interesting that you say the word “empathy.” I think what you’re talking about is that you understand them. And you feel empathy towards them. But my experience as a writer is that the audience will follow a character anywhere if they understand their motivation. Even if they don’t like what the character did, they understand why they’re doing it.
A perfect example of this is the moment in the first season where Tommy lies to Tasha [to protect] Holly. Now, he’s been in a close brother-sister relationship with Tasha for years. Between the two of them, Tasha’s the person he should be loyal to — yet you understood why he did that. You completely understood why he lied for Holly in that moment. I think as long as I can tell you a story about people that you understand, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like what they do, you understand why they did it.
It’s definitely a show that makes you question your own assumptions about people.
Yeah, we try to challenge the audience. I think women judge other women more harshly, always, which is a shame. But we build a lot more “give” into things for men. Part of that is because we recognize their frailty. As women, we expect more out of each other because we expect each other to bare more pain.
In the past, you’ve talked a lot about centering the show on the relationships in it. The characters on Power have very specific jobs and come from specific places but, really, you can imagine their relationships in any industry or in any part of the world.
Yes, absolutely. I’ve really committed to telling some banal stories — like, really banal stuff and basic stuff. At one point, Ghost has a fight with Tommy about Holly in the first season, and it’s like any two men having a conversation where they go, “I don’t like your bitch. I don’t like her. She’s messed up!” The idea that they have this fight that is normal between two men, but it’s much more heightened because they’re talking about what the fact that she could be a threat to them….