USA Network is developing a drug queenpin series from empire co-creators JaNeika and JaSheika James. Set in the 1980’s, Philly Reign will be based on the memoire of real-life drug boss Thelma Wright, entitled With Eyes From Both Sides: Living My Life In and Out of the Game. The self-published book details how Wright took over her husband’s illicit drug business after his murder and built it into a massive criminal empire that trafficked cocaine and heroin from Los Angeles to Philadelphia. The show will derive inspiration from true events, but also take liberties with its plot. Thelma Wright has been retained as a co-executive producer for the show in tandem with her son Jacky Wright.
Mary J. Blige was initially attached to play Wright in the show’s lead role, but became unavailable after she was tapped to star in a spinoff of Starz’s Power. According to Deadline, Blige was enticed by the prospect of playing a female gangster on TV, prompting her interest in Philly Reign. Instead of sticking with USA’s project, however, she found a similar role on Starz’s upcoming series and took it. She will still remain on Philly Reign as an executive producer and may have a recurring role on the series.
The show will be co-produced by eOne and Universal Content Productions. Charles Murray (Sons of Anarchy, Luke Cage) and Drew Comins will also join as executive producers, while Ashaunna Ayars and Q. Nicole Jackson will serve as co-EPs under Blige’s Blue Butterfly Productions.
Philly Reign is the latest crime drama to join USA’s lineup. The network has no shortage of experience in the genre, having already had success with Queen of the South. That series tells its own story of a drug queenpin who goes to war with Mexico’s drug cartels as she seeks to build her own criminal empire. USA has also explored the genre with its hacker drama Mr. Robot.
USA has yet to provide a timeline for Philly Reign’s premiere.