The best way to beat the summer heat…? Join it—by steaming things up with OWN’s sizzling new primetime soap opera, Ambitions, starring Robin Givens (Riverdale, Boomerang). Created and executive produced by longtime soap journalist Jamey Giddens and powerhouse producer Will Packer (Girls Trip, Little), this sexy cable sudser is a throwback to glitzy 1980s shows like Dynasty and Dallas that’s crafted for today’s audience. It centers a primarily black cast, features star-crossed young lesbians, and even has a BDSM element. Unsurprising from a creator who’s a huge fan of classic daytime soaps like Another World and page-turning plots! “I worship at the altar of the late Jackie Collins, Sidney Sheldon, Dominick Dunne and E. Lynn Harris,” says Giddens, an award-winning writer who savvy soap fans know and love for his breaking new stories and rip-roaring podcasts at DaytimeConfidential.Com. “I know their books are more sagas or potboilers than true romance novels, but there were some epic romances amid the thrills.”
With corporate intrigue, secret sexcapades, stalkers, and enemies-to-lovers spats galore, Ambitions has some “epic romances amid the thrills” as well! I couldn’t resist asking Jamey for some of the dishy details. But I did resist asking about my favorite badwrong ‘ship, so I’m shouting that out right here: awesome activist Rondell Lancaster (Brely Evans) and smarmy developer Greg Peters (Gino Anthony Pesi). Hatesex has to be on the horizon for these two fiery foes. As for what else is on the horizon for Ambitions, read on!
Suleikha: At the core, Ambitions is about two incredibly badass women—Stephanie Carlisle Lancaster and Amara Hughes, played by Robin Givens and Essence Atkins, respectively. What were your inspirations for building a woman-centric soap, and these two women in particular?
Jamey Giddens: Stephanie and Amara definitely recall classic primetime and daytime soap rivalries that saw the amoral vixen pitted against a more virtuous heroine. Dynasty had Alexis versus Krystle. All My Children had Erica Kane always sniping at Brooke English. Melrose Place really took off when Heather Locklear joined as vicious Amanda, who was constantly at odds with true-blue Allison (Courtney Thorne-Smith). After establishing that template, my writers and I wanted to really hone in on Stephanie’s desire to break the glass ceiling her own father encased her in. This is a woman who is more than capable of running the family law firm, but her father won’t retire and give her the keys to the kingdom because she’s a woman. With Amara, I flipped the stereotypical script of a female struggling to get over a man’s infidelity and made her the one who strayed on her husband, Titus. That truly added layers to the character. Amara is very much a good person but she did a bad thing. She and her husband are still reeling from her past decisions.
There is a whole lot of bed-hopping on this show. Everybody’s sleeping with everybody! But the root-for love story seems to be that of Amara and Titus (Kendrick Cross). I almost feel like they’re the innocent couple in a horror movie who’ve stumbled into things beyond their control! Was that intentional on your part?
Jamey Giddens: Absolutely. Amara and Titus moved back to Atlanta, where they attended college some 20-odd years ago, hoping for a fresh start personally and professionally. There was an infidelity on Amara’s part. But as in real-life relationships, these things don’t happen in a vacuum. Titus and Amara are both attorneys. Back in Birmingham, he was working 80 hours a week trying to build his private practice, leaving Amara feeling neglected. Enter Damian Collins (Alexander Mulzac), a drop-dead gorgeous colleague of Amara’s at the Department of Justice. Amara and Damian worked together on an intense case busting a meth ring and ended up having an affair. Amara regrets her indiscretion and is doing everything in her power to make it up to Titus. However, she might not get the chance. Titus’s old flame Stephanie, who also happens to be Amara’s former best friend and sorority sister, is determined to destroy their marriage. Titus goes up against Stephanie in an opioid class-action lawsuit. Meanwhile, Amara is assigned to investigate corruption in the Atlanta Mayor’s Office. Did I mention Stephanie is married to Mayor Evan Lancaster? [Laughs] The Hugheses should tread lightly. The Lancasters aren’t about to let anyone come between them and their insatiable quest for power.
Just a few episodes in, Ambitions has had some real jaw-dropping “OMG” moments—from the racy love scenes to the reveal that Evan (Brian White) is into BDSM. Was there ever a point where someone said “Jamey, you can’t do that!”? What was it like to navigate that?
Jamey Giddens: Oh yeah. There were a lot of times where I heard phrases like “I believe that’s a bridge too far.” [Laughs] I just backed my car up, punched in new coordinates on the GPS and tried to jump those bridges as much as I could, because I get soap opera. I know what soap fans are shocked and intrigued by, because I actually watch and love the genre. Luckily, I have an amazing collaboration with Hollywood producer Will Packer, who encourages me to let my freak flag fly.
Speaking of Evan and BDSM…what made you and your team want to address kink? I hear you spoke an expert about that world?
Jamey Giddens: We absolutely did. It started off as the writers wanting to differentiate Evan’s affair with City Procurement Officer Daphne Manning (Brianne Cordaro) from his relationships with his wife Stephanie and his main mistress Bella Tru (Erica Page). In the writers room, we pondered, “What if he’s into BDSM with Daphne?” Here’s a man who, although the mayor, has precious little control in his life. His wife and her family are trying to force him to get into bed with a mobbed-up developer. His sister is constantly accusing him of forgetting where he came from. His baby mama demands that he leaves his wife and marry her. The guy is always fighting for control with these women, whereas with Daphne he readily relinquishes it.
In addition to all the heterosexual shenanigans, the show also features a lesbian love story between Carly Lancaster (Kayla Brianna Smith) and Lori Purifoy (Christina Kirkman), whose parents are staunch rivals. What can viewers expect from Lori and Carly as the season moves forward?
Jamey Giddens: Carly and Lori’s secret romance reaches a, pardon the pun, climax in Episode 6. Most of our female cast is gathered together for a glitzy Women’s Empowerment Summit. The war between the Carlisles and Purifoys breaks out at the party altering Carly and Lori’s relationship forever. For the remaining episodes of our first chapter (Episode 11 is our midseason finale), we will see the two young women struggle to stay together despite the conflicting goals and machinations of their parents and grandparents.
Last but not least: What would you say to soap newbies, Ambitions newbies, about why they should tune in?
Jamey Giddens: Ambitions is a really fun show where black and brown people are front and center, getting to be as nasty as we want to be. Usually on shows like this, people of color and the LGBTQ characters are treated as tokens. In Ambitions, we’re front and center. It’s truly an edge-of-your-seat style show that doesn’t really allow for bathroom breaks. You won’t want to miss a single twist or turn.
Ambitions airs Tuesday nights at 10PM EST on OWN. Episodes are available on the Watch OWN app as well as at http://www.oprah.com/app/ambitions.html.