Siting A Skyline Across The Net

by Lee Dannacher

Sliding into the 21st Century, the word 'urban' remains synonymous with 'hip.' If it's urban -- it's appealing, fresh and hot. And if it's, it is way hip and getting hotter each month as the vibrant dot-com paints a fresh skyline across the Net.

Beginning in July of '99 as a B2B Website specializing in the distribution of black independent films, UrbanEntertainment has since evolved into a bona fide destination site featuring acquired and original fare targeting the African-American audience. CEO, Founder and President Michael Jenkinson has attracted the best and brightest of the industry's established black directors, writers, producers and actors who are looking to shape bold artistic turf on the new media stage. In record time, UrbanEntertainment has become a showcase for contagious comedy and on-the-edge drama. Although set-up to service the under-represented niche of black viewers, UrbanEntertainment's programming has, in reality, left no ethnic or non-ethnic viewer by the wayside in its presentation of shows with strong crossover audience appeal.

Taking It To The Street
Today, the young company boasts a burgeoning library of live-action features, shorts, celebrity interviews and now includes five original animated series that have rolled out over the past eight months. The first to debut last March was Undercover Brother from the prolific veteran John Ridley, whose striking resume includes writing the Gulf War drama Three Kings, writer/director of Cold Around The Heart, and current producer/ writer on NBC's Third Watch. For UrbanEntertainment, Ridley's riotous blaxploitation series chronicles the exploits of an afro-sporting, '70s Shaft-type action hero working undercover for a secret organization to "level the playing field for African-Americans." Becoming an instant Web hit, Undercover Brother soon sparked a Hollywood bidding war for the property's offline rights. In May, Jenkinson and Ridley made Internet history by inking a deal with Imagine Entertainment and Universal Pictures, making this the first Net-borne project to get picked up for the theatrical marketplace. Jenkinson and Brian Grazer of Imagine will produce, with Ridley writing and exec-producing the live-action film.

CEO, Founder and President Michael Jenkinson. Photo courtesy and © Urban Entertainment.

Also last spring, the nascent dot-com launched the comic A.J. Jamal's popular Pookie Poo series that centers on a fast talking, street-wise hustler operating on the game show circuit. On the darker side, established scribe Ben Ramsey (The Big Hit) premiered his dramatic series entitled The Contract, which follows the life of a professional assassin as he struggles with inner, and literal, demons. Then the very hip and funny Cisco and Ripple went live as UrbanEntertainment's weekly series for movie reviews. Written and voiced by A.J. Jamal and fellow comedian Spencer, Cisco and Ripple stars two brothers 'straight from the hood' who give us -- with a decidedly urban attitude -- their timely critiques on today's current movie premieres.

UrbanEntertainment unveiled their fifth original series Sistas 'N The City at the end of October, created by well-known writer/producer Tina Andrews (scripter and producer of the theatrical Why Do Fools Fall In Love, writer/producer of the TV miniseries Sally Hemmings: An American Tragedy and writer of the recently aired CBS miniseries Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis). Andrews' comedic and sensitive Sistas revolves around the lively world of four young, self-sustaining black women living in Chicago and what they go through in their day to day life dealing with men, family, money and jobs. Challenged by the huge numbers of people now logging on to the site, Andrews says of her new Net audience, "I want them to be able to come away with something funny, something sort of 'bad,' something sort of wry, something raunchy on occasion -- and something educational." All five of UrbanEntertainment's current series Netcast loud and clear the budding company's aim to serve up fresh ideas and content we would be hard pressed to find anywhere else.

Undercover Brother flying high with the series' growing success. © Urban Entertainment.

An Urban Dream
A Canadian by birth, Michael Jenkinson ventured through several different landscapes before launching himself onto the Internet frontier. After working as an attorney with the Federal Department of Justice in Toronto, he obtained an MBA from the prestigious Ivey School of Business and subsequently spent a year working in the financial industry for Chase Securities in New York. Embarking on a new career path, Jenkinson then crossed back over the border to become a resident producer in Norman Jewison's Canadian Film Center where he spent the next year in intense and immersive studies of the entertainment world. Wanting to be at the "epicenter of the activity," he struck out for L.A. and quickly landed an intern position at 20th Century Fox. In the ensuing six years, Jenkinson rose first to VP of Acquisitions before moving over to work as Fox's Vice President of Development and Production.

Although valuing his experiences there, Jenkinson became more and more frustrated over the limitations of shepherding ethnic related projects through the entrenched studio systems. The Web's landscape during the fall of 1998 was pivotal, then, to Jenkinson's next move. Online trading services like Schwab and E-Trade had just hit their stride and Jenkinson, having always been fairly active in the stock market, says, "In doing my research for investment purposes, I focused on Internet entertainment companies." He recalls, "It wasn't hard, if you were paying attention, to see that something really fundamental was happening to the way we communicate and entertain ourselves and conduct commerce. It became a really appealing time to do something entrepreneurial, which was always part of my plan. I felt that I had a pretty well-rounded background that would lend itself to allowing me to start something -- the legal background, the business background, as well as the creative entertainment experience. It just seemed like an irresistible time and so I launched UrbanEntertainment."


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