Any big hit has a ripple effect, and two TV shows about the hip-hop business were moving full speed ahead less than a month after the season finale of Fox's surprise smash rap soap opera, Empire. Although the programs in question -- both from Viacom: VH1's scripted drama The Breaks and BET's documentary series The Label -- were already in development when Empire premiered on Jan. 7, there's little doubt about their target audience. As Breaks co-executive producer Maggie Malina puts it, "Empire encouraged us to believe there's a big audience for shows that take place in the music world, and its massive success" -- Empire's audience grew from 9.9 million to 16.7 million from the premiere to the season finale, and the show was upped from 10 to 18 episodes for its second season -- "has certainly put the pressure on."
The new shows offer grittier and more nuanced takes on the hip-hop business than Empire's entertaining if sensational portrayals. The Breaks, which begins shooting in June for an expected late-fall premiere, is a TV movie positioned as "a backdoor pilot for a potential series" -- based on Dan Charnas' 2010 book, The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop. Set in 1990, when New York City was still dangerous and hip-hop was at a tipping point, it's closer to the era of Empire's flashback scenes than its IPO-and-bling present. The Breaks uses that backdrop to follows three friends from different backgrounds attempting to break into the music business: Nikki, who abandons a scholarship to law school and disappoints her parents to pursue a career as a label exec; her boyfriend, David, the son of a notorious record-business shark who rejects his father's approach to the business; and aspiring producer DeeVee, who is seeking a rapper to work with -- and finds one in a drug dealer named Ahm.