In the last few years, Starz has explored far flung places and times in search of a hit original drama. Think "Spartacus," "Da Vinci's Demons" and "Black Sails."
But its latest original drama, "Power," is set in the gritty here and now. And it is decidedly in a New York state of mind, flavored with hip-hop, mountains of bling and no shortage of menace.
The series, which premieres June 7, is built around James "Ghost" St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), an ambitious entrepreneur with all the trappings of success. He has wealth, a spacious apartment, a beautiful wife and three children.
When the series opens, Ghost has just opened the city's hottest new nightspot. But this newest king of New York has a dark side — he's also a kingpin in a lucrative illegal drug operation catering to the rich and wealthy.
While "Ghost" hopes the club will help lead him away from crime and toward legitimacy, the people around him have other plans. Heightening the tension between outlaw and upright citizen is Ghost's reconciliation with his former lover Angela Valdes (Lela Loren), a prosecutor out to put away a big drug dealer — she doesn't know it's Ghost.
"Power" is charged with a high-styled urban sensitivity that comes courtesy of executive producer Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, one of the music world's leading rappers. Jackson helped develop the series along with producer Mark Canton ("300," "300: Rise of an Empire") and creator Courtney Kemp Agboh.
The hit rapper knows his way around the underworld — he's a former crack dealer, convicted drug offender and a drive-by shooting survivor. He was determined to bring an authenticity to the show's atmosphere and vibe.
"I love doing film, but I think TV has evolved greatly," Jackson wrote in an e-mail from Budapest, where he was filming the comedy "Spy" with Melissa McCarthy. "The caliber of talent, acting and production is similar to the level in films now."
In addition to overseeing the production, Jackson also performs the show's theme song, serves as music supervisor and plays a recurring role as Kanan, Ghost's former boss who is now in prison.
Said Agboh, "He was super involved, and he was there helping to construct the show from the bottom up. He really brought us into the world — that of a super rich black person."
Starz CEO Chris Albrecht acknowledged that "Power" represented a departure from the premium cable channel's typical fare. "What is consistent in the shows we've done and their production is us bringing audiences worlds that are not often seen on television," he said. "With 'Power,' we're presenting a world and characters we haven't seen before, in a package that tells a story that has classic themes — an ill-fated romance, a hero with a tragic flaw."
Agboh, a former writer on CBS's "The Good Wife," said her goal with "Power" was to tell a story about the elusive road to redemption. "The question surrounding this show is 'Who do you want to be?' Ghost really wants to be something different," she said. "He's got a lot of things going on. He really doesn't want to hurt anybody, but he's forced to by circumstance."
Playing the complex Ghost was a challenge for Hardwick, who was seen last season as a married man having a steamy affair with a single TV journalist on BET's "Being Mary Jane."
"My first reaction when I read the pilot script was, 'Wow, this guy is as truthful in his lies as he can be,'" said Hardwick. "He was written so raw and gritty. Courtney didn't pull any punches."
Hardwick was also aware that he's playing a criminal that some viewers will not see as being a sympathetic figure.
"Everyone knows someone like Ghost," he said. "He is an everyday man, but he's extremely bright and ambitious. He's a good husband and a good father. And we've all had a little moments of being what our mothers and grandmothers don't want us to be. As long as we have enough empathic moments, I think people will be drawn to him."
Naturi Naughton, who plays his wife, Tasha, also said her character also may be initially hard for viewers to embrace.
"I don't want people to see her the wrong way," she said. "She's crazy, but as the season progresses, I think you will empathize and feel for her. We've got an amazing story, and I just hope people can get on the ride with us."