BET didn't skim on authenticity for 'The New Edition Story'

When BET announced in 2015 that its first scripted miniseries would take on the iconic singing group New Edition, the excitement in R&B circles was instant. The concept of a movie centering on the rise, fall and resurrection of one of the most iconic and influential singing groups in soul music had the potential to be a true crowd-pleaser.

But along with the buzz came the questions: Would the group, particularly its most high-profile and controversial member Bobby Brown, be involved? Would the project have the rights to the hit songs? Would it cover the good, the bad and the ugly?

Producers of the film, particularly considering the group’s continuing popularity, felt the pressure. During the filming of a relatively innocuous winter scene last summer at a Hollywood recording studio, they were visibly concerned about how “The New Edition Story” would be received by the group’s loyal fans and viewers — especially the hard-to-please Black Twitter community.

“That’s the real Siskel and Ebert,” executive producer Jesse Collins said, referencing the classic film critic duo. “There’s a lot of pressure. We just tried to focus on telling the story. Hopefully, people will love it.”

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As he talked, technicians worked on a scene that explored one of the key moments in the group’s roller-coaster journey — arriving to work on its seminal “Heart Break” album, the first to feature Johnny Gill after Brown’s acrimonious exit, with powerhouse producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.)

The anxiousness surrounding the film was understandable. Biopics, especially made-for-TV projects, have met with intense public scrutiny — and skepticism. A spate of biopics centered on black artists, including Whitney Houston, Aaliyah, TLC and N.W.A, were met with mixed reaction, controversy and even litigation. 

Nevertheless, BET not only moved forward, but aimed high with an ambitious, three-night miniseries on the group, which is still so beloved it can pack arenas more than 30 years after its debut. The musical drama premieres Tuesday and concludes Thursday.

Getting the story right was the key consideration for those involved. All six members of the group — Brown, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ronnie DeVoe, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant — served as producers, as did New Edition’s longtime manager and choreographer, Brooke Payne.

Maurice Starr, who Svengalied them to pop stardom with bubblegum R&B hits he crafted, consulted, while Jam, Lewis and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, — superstar producers who previously worked with the group, collectively or on solo projects — handled music for the film.

New Edition sold millions of records, catapulted Brown, Gill and Tresvant to solo success and launched two splinter groups, Heads of State and Bell Biv DeVoe, whose megahit “Poison” remains an earworm 26 years after its release.

But for all its tightly choreographed moves and smooth soulful harmonies — NSync, Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees owe them some credit — years of interpersonal drama underscored the success. Tensions raged over lead singing parts and bitter rivalries. Brown eventually was voted out over his unpredictable behavior. A contentious reunion tour exploded with an onstage brawl.

The film exposed the tumultuous journey, which group members were able to confront with a sense of understanding and insight.

“We’re at the point in our lives personally and professionally where we feel like we can tell the story and really open it up,” Bell said. “We prided ourselves on keeping our dirty laundry, so to speak, to ourselves. It was challenging opening up old wounds and talking about things we haven’t discussed.”

Despite having not released material since 2004, New Edition continues to perform (with and without Brown). Its members still put out music on their own — spinoff hip-hop outfit Bell Biv DeVoe soon will release its first album in nearly 16 years.

“This is a story of brotherhood that speaks to our community,” Bell said. “It brought a lot of clarity to us as friends. We held onto it for a while, and I’m glad because I believe that it’s really the right time for us.”

A recreation of New Edition's 1996 "Home Again" album. From left: Elijah Kelley as Ricky Bell, Algee Smith as Ralph Tresvant, Luke James as Johnny Gill, Woody McClain as Bobby Brown, Keith Powers as Ronnie DeVoe and Bryshere Y. Gray as Michael Bivins. (Bennett Raglin / BET)

'The New Edition Story' Part One: 7 Little-Known Facts We Learned About The R&B Group From BET Biopic

Part one of BET’s three-part mini series The New Edition Story was chock-full of details some diehard New Edition fans wouldn’t even know. The two-hour premiere, which aired Tuesday night (Jan. 24), started with an onstage brawl between the group and ex-member (at the time) Bobby Brown then flashed back to their Roxbury, Boston beginnings.

From local talent shows to their first major label record deal with MCA, the film revealed how the group formed (and got their name), their grassroots artist development by choreographer Brooke Payne, their naiveté to the business of music and their first post-tour check for $1.87.

The first installment was largely carried by the children in the cast -- Caleb McLaughlin as Ricky Bell, Dante Hoagland as Michael Bivins, Tyler Williams as Bobby, Jahi Winston as Ralph Tresvant and Miles Truitt as Ronnie DeVoe -- who nailed the young group’s mannerisms and singing chops.

Normally biopics are padded with dramatic falsehoods for entertainment, but as the executive producers of the film, New Edition kept the story true to how they lived it. Lifted from the film and live tweets from New Edition and the cast, here are 7 little-known bits of info about the legendary crew from part one. No alternative facts here.

Bobby Brown had stage fright as a kid

The now fearless, high-energy showman was once terrified to perform. During a local talent show in their hometown, a young Ricky Bell and Mike Bivins went to support Brown for his first show, where he choked in front of a packed house. To soothe his solo fears, Brown asked Bell and Biv to perform with him, which was the initial birth of the boys as an unnamed singing group.

Michael Bivins and Yvette Nicole Brown have history off-screen

In The New Edition Story, the actress/comedian plays the mother, Shirley, to little Mike Biv (Dante Hoagland). But back in the day, teen Brown was a singer in the East Coast Family, a collective of artists managed by Bivins under Motown Records.

Ronnie DeVoe is Brooke Payne’s nephew

New Edition’s first manager -- and the man behind their smooth choreography -- is DeVoe’s uncle. In part one, Payne developed the boys from amateurs to signed artists, putting them through rigorous workouts and giving them as much as of the music game as possible. Though he was eventually fired from his management role by the group’s mothers when they didn’t see a monetary return from the boys’ work, DeVoe tweeted that his family bond remains strong.

Ralph Tresvant was offered a solo deal

Before their Billboard Hot 100 hit "Candy Girl," Ricky Bell sang the main lead for the group, but Ralph quickly emerged as the answer to the Jackson 5’s Michael Jackson. After the group won a talent show hosted by Maurice Starr, the record label exec visited Tresvant’s home to persuade him to go solo. Tresvant, however, stayed loyal to his friends.

Bivins almost turned down their first record deal

Once Tresvant turned down the solo offer, Starr presented record contracts to all five members. However, Bivins hesitated since his first dream was to become a basketball player. After a motivational pep talk, his mom convinced him that he shouldn’t “leave no money on the table,” so he accepted the $500 deal.

New Edition opened for rapper Kurtis Blow

When “Candy Girl” was No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (then-called the Hot Black Singles chart) in 1983, ahead of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” the kids were billed for a show with Kurtis Blow and Madonna. According to the film, young New Edition's newfound fame made them the headlining act at New York's Roseland Ballroom, which sparked some tension between them and Blow.

The group was broke for years

After years of worldwide touring off the success of "Candy Girl," the group, now teenagers, didn’t gain a real financial come-up. Their tour bus dropped them off at Orchard Park housing projects and each member received a check for only $1.87, which led to their moms fighting for new management and a new record deal.

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