Keke Palmer on how she hopes to unlock Hollywood for a new generation with her digital platform KeyTV
Keke Palmer is having a moment. That's a bit strange to say for someone who's been working since she was nine years old, but this moment has been 20 years in the making. Now, with the spotlight trained brighter than ever on her, Palmer is spreading the love around with her new digital platform, KeyTV.
A streaming television network that showcases young creatives who might not have otherwise had an entry point into the industry, in addition to providing training tools for those creatives on how to get their projects off the ground, KeyTV is Palmer's act of tossing her hat into a ring not often reserved for young, Black women: network executive.
It's not a role she takes lightly. Though she's known for her ebullient, larger-than-life personality, when Palmer — star of the recent movies Nope, Lightyear, and Alice, and host of NBC's Password and her own podcast, Baby, This Is Keke Palmer — discusses KeyTV, she's all business. Working with her friend Lenoria Addison, an entertainment executive and former producer at the Awesomeness Television network, over meetings at SoHo House, Palmer came up with a business plan and started building KeyTV from the ground up with a $500,000 investment.
"[Lenoria] just walked me through with her skills from being a producer at Awesomeness, my skills as a creative and producing some of my own stuff, and then my mother's skills putting everything together with my career over the last 20 years," Palmer explains to EW. "We all, bit by bit, just started chipping away and then reaching out to people we knew that were looking to get their projects made on this type of scale."
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Keke Palmer
The debut slate includes nine projects (as seen above in the exclusive super tease trailer):
Heaux & Tell — a scripted series that follows "the misadventures of three best friends (Mykal Monroe, Akeishein Wells, Bree Webber) who dive headfirst into provocative and ridiculous new experiences," according to the official network description.
The Walk of Shame: Heaux & Tell Aftershow — the cast and creatives behind the show dish on each episode; hosted by Weezy.
Make It Make Sense — 106 & Park meets The View, where cohosts Bryce Xavier, Karmyn Moton, Maura Chanz, and Ruba Wilson break down the latest and greatest pop culture moments, memes, tweets, news, and more.
The Edible Always Wins — a short film directed by Palmer and starring Lawrence Palmer and Vaune Suitt in a story about what happens "when one young man's desire to get a job clashes with his desire to eat that edible."
Unlabeled — an unscripted series that takes a look at Palmer and other music artists who were at one time signed to record companies but became "unlabeled" and what that really meant for their careers.
Big Girl Blues: — a scripted series set in the Bay Area following the dating life of an up-and-coming artist who's "struggling to balance her work and personal relationships throughout the music industry," featuring "contemporary original music made by the star herself."
Dear Keke — Palmer is "listening to your problems and answering with her real, down-to-earth, and hilarious advice" on this unscripted series featuring "some funny, wild, and heartwarming voicemails" shared by viewers.
Sportsfan — a scripted family sitcom (directed by Palmer and filmed entirely on iPhones) about CJ, a "dedicated fantasy footballer who streams about his favorite team the Beagles — much to the enjoyment of his friends and father, and the chagrin of his pregnant wife, Lila."
Keep Me in Mind — a short film about an alternate universe where Jada "continues her relationship with her deceased boyfriend" and tries to find the strength to move on.
While Palmer says the network targeted at millennial and Gen Z audiences and "definitely geared towards people of color," she also notes the intentional focus on showing "what went into creating this project, [and] breaking down and democratizing the idea around how to actually put something together."
Here, Palmer breaks down what KeyTV is, who it's for, where she hopes to take it, her apprehension, and the growing pains of becoming a mentor.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was there a specific incident that inspired you to start KeyTV?
KEKE PALMER: Reaching my 20th year in the business, and I was getting ready to film Nope. I started being overwhelmed with just all of the opportunities and wanting to know what to invest in, wanting to know what to invest my time in, what to invest my money in, and how to do something that not just I'm benefiting from. It was starting to get overwhelming in that sense. Not in a bad way, but I knew that there had to be a greater reason why I was given this platform and how I could take some of that pressure off of just me and put it toward something that could benefit others. In the last year with everything that was happening for me and what it was building towards, I was saying, "Okay, now how do I pay it forward?"
Universal Pictures Keke Palmer as Emerald Haywood in 'Nope'
Were there any examples within the industry that you followed or you were inspired by?
Brian Robbins is one. Obviously he started out as an actor and producer, writer, all the work that he did with Kenan & Kel and Nick Cannon and Nickelodeon in general, then worked his way up from being an independent contractor, creating AwesomenessTV, to come back and be the president of Paramount. I think that was really inspiring, just when you talk about diversity in the industry, career-wise, and being able to branch out in your career. That was really inspiring.
Growing up, somebody like Queen Latifah was always inspiring because she was so, again, diverse in her career. And then Tyler Perry. I really will give Tyler all the props in the world for being able to create a franchise character that really was unexpected from the [theater] circuit, where Madea came from, to become a household name. I remember watching Madea, before I even was in [Madea's Family Reunion], at 6, 7, 8 years old, and for him to still have ownership and creating his own things with this original IP, and now having his own studio. The way that these people have been able to own things, even if they sold them or shared them or collaborated, the fact that they were able to, in this industry, own something and then be at the forefront of pioneering something, is really inspirational. And they've been able to give jobs and opportunities to so many.
And did you seek out advice from Tyler Perry or Queen Latifah or anyone else?
Absolutely. I always have spoken and gotten advice from Queen Latifah, just from working with her. And then I definitely did reach out to Brian Robbins and he was very encouraging. I met with him and talked with him before as a talent, but not from this point of view, so I look forward to continuing that conversation. But I also talked to Tyler, and Tyler even watched my directorial debut that isn't out yet, and gave me so much encouragement, feedback, and support. Something that Tyler said that was just so awesome, which speaks to who Tyler is as a person, was, "I'm always available. If somebody wanted to know anything, especially young people in your generation and our community, I'm always here and I'm so happy that you called and you reached out."
Because I'm definitely one of those people that's like, "Closed mouths don't get fed." I know it seems crazy to be like, "Hey, who's got Tyler Perry's number?" [laughs] But if somebody's going to do it, it's going to be me. I'm going to say, "Who here's got Tyler Perry's number? Can somebody give me Tyler Perry's number? Because I just want to ask him some questions." So I think it was cool that he appreciated the fact that I was, I don't know if the word would be daring, but just bold enough to do that just because, hey, how else is it going to happen?
Johnny Nunez/WireImage Keke Palmer and Queen Latifah in 2016 at 'VH1 Hip Hop Honors: All Hail The Queens'
At 29 years old, as a Black woman in Hollywood, you're forging this path that not a lot of other Black women have done before. Was there any fear in that?
Definitely some apprehension. I don't know fear, but definitely some, "Oh, I don't have all the answers." And I don't like to not do everything perfect. You know what I'm saying? So there's a bit of me that has to let go of the fact that I'm not going to be able to do it right. I've had to learn that, "Hey, you know what? You're not going to get it all right, so just push yourself to push through it." It's the learning in the process and letting that happen that I really had to get myself used to.
Was there anything that caught you off guard in creating something like this? What didn't you expect or what did you learn in the process?
I think the most difficult thing probably was sometimes the distrust or the discomfort. The thing that I wanted to do with KeyTV, specifically, was not to just solely focus on working with people that had been doing the industry for years and knew everything about the industry. My mother, Lenoria, and I, we really wanted to give people a chance that would very rarely have a chance.
And in that, you are met with people that also don't know anything about the business. So we really were taking on a lot of these relationships, that mentorship and that teaching and learning how to help them also be autonomous within that, because we're working together. I can't tell you what to do and how to do, but I can tell you to get an attorney. I can tell you that this is the process and you don't have to say yes to this, but this is what we can do and what we're capable of. It's up to you to decide if this is fitting for you. Ask questions and let's communicate. And so it's a lot of that. Not that I didn't expect it, but that is probably why a lot of times you see people working with the same folks, because I think sometimes it's difficult to teach people things and to be patient, and then also deal with the fact that some people are so green that it's not always met with compassion or trust.
Sometimes people don't trust you, you know what I mean? And they don't see or understand the opportunity for what it is, or don't even look at it as an opportunity. That's a big thing that any producer — anybody working and creating something — they all come across. For me, this was the first time that I had ever experienced that, as it wasn't pertaining to me as a talent. And so I had to really learn how to navigate that. I never want to convince someone to do something. I always want people to feel like they want to be there. So that was the big thing about jumping into these new relationships and collaborating with these new people, it's always saying, "Hey, main thing is this: You don't have to do nothing with me. But if you do, I'm always going to let you know what I can do, what I can't do, what I'm here to offer, and everything else is up to you."
One of the biggest things I learned is just setting that stage so that people know that they can say no, that they can ask questions, that they can push back. That [they know] that doesn't mean we're going to, at the end of this, agree or want to go into business. And that's okay. Nonetheless, it is a process that you're learning from and that I'm learning and we can respect one another at the end.
And how did it feel stepping into that mentorship role?
Oh, wow. Yeah. You know what? Again, I'm learning, too. I feel definitely capable and able to be a mentor to someone. I definitely feel like I have the skill and the experience to be of use to someone in that way. Having said that, being a mentor is still a position that you have to learn how to work from. I'm used to being the mentee and I'm still a mentee to many people and always looking for more mentors myself.
But I think for me, the mentorship role was something that I was really trying to have patience with myself. A lot of what I was telling you before is knowing and meeting people where they're at and being patient and not taking things personally. And everybody doesn't know my heart and everybody hasn't had good experiences in this industry, and I haven't always had good experiences in this industry. And part of working in this industry is not people telling you what to do, but people giving you permission to be autonomous in your decision-making and going from there.
So taking on that role was really about meeting people where they were at and letting them know where I was at and being honest and being genuine in that and learning. Not every relationship is totally smooth. And that's okay. I think we should actually talk about that because that just means that you and that person probably shouldn't collaborate — me knowing straight off the top that if me and this person, we're already not seeing eye to eye, then maybe we're just not a compatible pair.
Being a mentor, not everybody respects you in that way, and that's okay too, but if you don't respect me in this position, this probably isn't going to be a match. Dealing with learning how to be flexible in that and knowing what people may want from me at different times and if that aligns with what I'm able to give. Because at the same time, this is real and serious for me. It's not something that I'm just doing because my name is Keke and you're just doing this because I'm Keke. No, let's do this because we really believe in what we're doing.
Let's talk about a few of KeyTV's shows. How hands-on were you in developing these shows?
Pretty hands-on. It depends on which level. Some shows I wrote. Some shows I wrote and directed. Some shows I found, and then I just helped put the production together — I literally handpicked the cinematographer and then put the crews together. And then other projects, I was a little bit more pulled back. And again, I meet my collaborators where they are. Some creators have teams that they've worked with and I worked with them with budgeting and making sure that we are not over-exceeding what we need in terms of pre-production and post-production. I don't stop people from hiring who they want to hire and working with who they want to work with. But not everybody has a team. So then that's when we also can step in and give a team.
I'm also writing and creating material. And then there's another version that we're getting into that I'm excited about as well: licensing. So a lot of people will reach out to us with work that's already done that we can think about licensing, where I would be able to use what I come with as a way to move that project forward in a more traditional sense if that is the avenue that the creator's looking for.
Can you tell me a bit about Dear Keke, your advice show?
Dear Keke was a collaboration with [Refinery29's] Chelsea Sanders, and one of the ideas that she had that we developed together was Dear Keke, which is pretty much me sitting in a chair talking and responding to these phone calls about different things, whether it be relationships, whether it be career, whether it be self-care, et cetera. I'm just answering them all as it pertains to just what was happening with life. So it's my own advice column.
Do you remember any specific questions people had?
Questions like: How do I know if this person is the one? How do I know if I should let go of this love or move on? Or how should I know when is the right time to leave my current job and follow my dreams? How do you get people to really rock with you? Or how to make a name for yourself in the industry? Or how do I make time for myself? I don't know how to give myself more self-care, et cetera. The list goes on.
Unlabeled tracks your own journey in the music industry. What was your journey? And what does this show say about the music industry and your journey specifically?
Unlabeled is a series that really just follows artists and how they become "unlabeled." We always assume that the best way in the industry is to be signed to a label. But for many artists, it actually is the reverse. Their independence is what actually helps them to maintain their creative processes where they found their real peace, their real mode. And so I think my career is indicative of that. And so we decided to start the series off with my story, and pretty much it's the tipping point into what you'll end up seeing in [my directorial debut] Big Boss. But my journey was just a lot of starting out with labels and thinking that that was the way I had to do it, and I had to follow this particular code, and I had to use whatever their source of validation as my own validation — which was really mentally taxing, being so young and dealing with that kind of ideology.
But then I ultimately overcame those demons. As I got older and started to realize that it's just always been about me forging my own path, being supportive of my own voice, not actually waiting on anyone to validate me, and that there isn't anything that can validate me or should validate me outside of me being my biggest supporter. Once I did that and stopped waiting or looking or subjecting myself to these different scenarios where people didn't really get it, the more I was able to actually go towards those that did.
And can you tell me about Heaux and Tell?
Heaux and Tell is a really fun series. It's the granddaughter to Girlfriends, to Sex and the City. It's about these three young women who are just living their lives in Atlanta, growing, figuring out who it is they want to be. And it talks about their sex lives and love lives and what is common in our generation, whether it be OnlyFans behavior, or being open with wanting to use sex toys in their relationships, or being completely fluid in their sexuality, whatever it might be. I love that the writer Nakia Stephens did it in such a way where it [didn't feel like], "We're being inclusive and we are doing the thing and this is a millennial show." It wasn't overly trying to prove itself, and the characters felt very real. It was just these are these girls' stories, while at the same time, it is so very much representative of the times.
What are your hopes for KeyTV? Where do you hope to take it in the coming years?
I hope to really have an aspect to it where we can do training programs. I think that's something that I would really love to do — help train people for sets, train people to work in this industry, and give opportunities to young adults, young writers, and creators.
And then outside of that, I just hope to continue to be able to have long relationships with these creators and these shows, whether they stay digital or they become traditional television shows or traditional films. I'd just love to create longstanding IPs and different pieces of work with people that can continue to grow and we can say, "Oh, I remember when it started like this. And then it became that." I think overall creating not just a network of great talent and work, but that work of community building and being able to exist as something that allows people to grow. Like, "Oh, I worked at KeyTV," or "I did a training at KeyTV. I was able to learn." Really be able to work within itself to grow and support the next generations of talent.
And as a mentor, what piece of advice do you most often give to young creatives coming up in the industry?
Don't give up. Just keep going. Keep learning. Keep pushing. And don't expect that everything has to happen for you the way it happened for someone else, or that this is a particular way that it has to go. Really, truly hone into your own voice, what makes you unique. That doesn't mean to not be collaborative or not to listen to what anyone else has to say, but it just means to be sure and clear on what it is you want to do. And don't be afraid to go towards that and those that support you within that, no matter how long it takes. Be confident in your journey.
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