GPB creates talk show ‘A Seat at the Table’ featuring Monica Pearson

Christine White, Denene Millner and Monica Pearson on June 12, 2017 pose for promo photos for their new GPB show “A Seat at the Table.”CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

This was posted Thursday, June 15, 2017 by Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

During a photo shoot earlier this month to promote a new Georgia Public Broadcasting talk show “A Seat at the Table,” a Solange song was playing and broadcast legend Monica Pearson tried to convince GPB president Teya Ryan to dance.

Ryan laughed but declined. That didn’t dampen the energy among the three African-American women who are part of the weekly panel discussion show, which debuts Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m. Ryan said after two years of pondering the idea, she was just thrilled to have the right cast to make it come to fruition.

She was able to convince Pearson, the city’s first black female evening TV news anchor, to join the show. Pearson worked at Channel 2 Action News for 37 years before retiring five years ago. For Pearson, the show is her first opportunity to discuss issues openly on air without worrying she was sullying her impartiality as a journalist.

“I haven’t been this excited about anything in years,” Pearson said. “To be honest, I have bitten my tongue for over 40 years in newspapers and on television, not being able to say what’s on my mind and to explain why I have the feelings I have where it didn’t affect anyone’s ratings.”

And she likes the name of the show “A Seat at the Table,” which came from the name of singer-songwriter Solange’s third album.

“We as African-American women have not been allowed to express our opinions without fear of being called an angry black woman or uppity or the b-word,” Pearson said. “This is an opportunity to see what we’re really like when we’re together talking as girlfriends.”

Ryan also asked entertainment attorney Christine White, whose daughter attended the same school as Ryan’s, to join the cast. White, who is in her late 30s, normally works behind the scenes with celebrity clients in the entertainment world but decided this was the unique venue to step forward into the spotlight herself beyond community service and financial education.

“She does not mince her words,” Pearson said. “She’s into pop culture. She knows trap music. She had to explain the word ‘trap’ to me! It’s about where drug deals happen!”

And Pearson heard about 48-year-old author Denene Millner through a mutual friend. Millner, a New York native active in church growing up, was a journalist for many years at Associated Press and Honey magazine. She has also written 27 books, a range of fiction, children’s and non-fiction. She was the ghost writer for comic Steve Harvey‘s best-selling relationship books and reality star NeNe Leake‘s autobiography. Millner also runs a book imprint for black children.

“This was an invitation to run my mouth,” Millner said. “Anything to do with black women is near and dear to my heart.”

Rachel Joyce, the photographer, asked the women to laugh. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

The trio, in a pilot episode already available on GPB’s website, clicked immediately as they talked about body issues concerning black women including booties and hair. They said they have received great feedback so far.

“We are having so much fun on the show,” White said. “Every topic we discuss is really serious to us. We live our lives in very tumultuous times. We are blessed. We may talk about painful issues but we find ways to bring the joy.”

They have taped a few episodes already. They address the N-word. They discuss the concept of “microaggressions,” where white folks make presumptuous comments about minorities. They talk about how lighter skinned blacks are treated vs. darker-skinned blacks. “There is such a thing as black privilege,” Pearson said. “We deal with that on the show. I like it because it’s going to cause conversations among women, black and white.”

“We all come from different backgrounds,” Pearson added. “We have very different views and ways of handling things. We’re so different generationally. It makes for interesting conversation.”

At the same time, Millner noted, “we all have a similar frame of reference. We understand what’s important to us, what’s interesting to us, what resonates with us. Coming up with topics was the easy part.”

Ryan, who is white, said the idea stemmed from a long-time discussion with GPB producer Tiffany Brown-Rideaux, who is black and is now co-producing the show with Keocia Howard.

“They share a love of dogs,” said Pearson, “and they talk honestly and openly with each other. That’s why this show came about.”

Ryan said she grew up with parents who taught her to be color blind, to see everyone as equal. But over time, she realized that this is not reality. “We need to see color,” she said, “and understand the world sees color… It’s been a learning process for me, sometimes painful. I can walk into a department store and not get questioned whether I can afford something. African Americans get questioned. I never understood that. I never had the eyes to see it.”

One time, someone wanted to touch Brown-Rideaux’s hair in front of Ryan. “I was appalled,” Ryan said.

“She had a meltdown,” Brown-Rideaux added.

“But then I would come back with questions,” Ryan said. “I’d learn things I had never understood that were reality in their lives. They don’t have a place for expression in mainstream media.”

GPB, she added, “spends much of our time teaching people about other cultures. It’s one of the great things we do. But we have failed to teach our audience about what it’s like for people who live right here right in front of us, who we interact with every day. That was a revelation to me.”

Although the 30-minute program has three black women on it, “I don’t want people to think it’s a black show,” Pearson said. “It’s a show that is giving everyone a look into a culture. And when you’re able to look at another culture, it helps you understand it better.”

“The real goal is create a bridge for discussion,” Ryan added, “create a bridge for conversation, for honest conversation.”

Rachel Joyce (left) taking photos of Christine White, Denene Millner and Monica Pearson in front of a green screen. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

TV PREVIEW

“A Seat at the Table,” 6:30 p.m. Sundays, GPB

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