"Hit the Floor"
With the NBA in the midst of playoffs, VH1 is aiming to take viewers inside the world of professional basketball with its new series Hit the Floor.
Specifically, the show -- which marks the network's second scripted hourlong series, following Single Ladies -- focuses on the lives and loves of the fictional Los Angeles Devil Girls.
Newcomer Taylour Paige stars in Hit the Floor (previously known as Bounce) as Ahsha, a sheltered young woman who joins the dance team against the wishes of her mother, Sloane (Kimberly Elise), a former Devil Girl who is familiar with the back-stabbing and ruthlessness that goes on behind the scenes.
Also starring are Charlotte Ross as the squad manager, Logan Browning as the ruthless, star caption Jelena and Dean Cain as the former all-star who's come back to coach his old team. Meanwhile, the pilot also introduces a mystery surrounding the disappearance of a Devil Girls dancer that will play out through the season and also sets up some other questions about the backgrounds of Elise's, Ross' and Cain's characters.
Creator/executive producer James LaRosa tells The Hollywood Reporter that the show is in the vein of So You Think You Can Dance-meets-Black Swan "in that you have the ingenue coming in to this world, and then there's the person who runs it and the lengths she'll go to to stay on top, and how that world starts to taint even the most innocent person coming into it."
He adds: "I think the themes that we're really looking at are really women finding their power and holding on to their power, and seeing a grounded world vs. this hyperstylized world of money, fame, power and all that. … The essential conflict of the season is the mother-daughter relationship [between Sloane and Ahsha], and how much protecting is too much?"
The season also will show how Ahsha gets pulled into the depths of the pro-basketball world, including a player whose eye she catches, as well as the rivalry with Jelena. In creating the villainous character, LaRosa says he set out to come up with the "black Joan Collins" -- referring to the former Dynasty star's villainous character, Alexis Carrington Colby.
"Logan delivers the goods," LaRosa says. "Jelena is sort of the queen of this world, and when Ahsha comes along, she realizes the threat in this girl next door with all her positive energy, and she just wants to squash it. She's every worst nightmare Ahsha could possibly have."
While LaRosa embraces the term "soap" -- although he emphasizes the show's appeal to both male and female viewers -- he says the writers are careful to avoid veering into "camp" territory.
"We take it very seriously here -- we can't give campy stuff to Kimberly Elise or Charlotte Ross or these actors -- you need to write for them," he says, noting that Elise was the first to sign. "To me that sends a message saying, 'This is a real actress here. She's not coming along to just vamp and be catty.' It was important to me to have actors of a certain caliber who bring different layers. We don't embrace the idea of 'guilty pleasure.' If you feel guilty watching it, then you shouldn't watch it."
For her part, Elise says she signed on because she thought the pilot script was "great."
"The opportunity to play a character that goes through all the emotions you could possibly imagine was exciting to me as an actor," she tells THR. "And VH1 is an interesting network -- I thought it would be fun to do something a little outside the box."
Elise adds that some of the mysteries raised in the pilot will be answered during the season, while yet others will arise in future episodes.
"There are so many more surprises, and nothing is as simple as it may seem," she says.
Echoes Cain: "There are so many twists and turns."
LaRosa adds that every episode of the dance-heavy series will feature "its own unique, sort of music-video dance number [choreographed by Michael Rooney] that is unique to the story." He adds that all of the actors do their own dancing.
Viewers also will see cameos by bold-faced names from the worlds of entertainment and sports, including Akon, Mark Cuban, Olympic swimmer Greg Louganis and NFL pro Bret Lockett. Rick Fox also has a multi-episode arc -- not as himself but as the husband of Ross' character.
For Cain, the world of professional sports is a familiar one -- he is a former pro-football player for the Buffalo Bills -- and that was part of the show's draw for him.
"Everything about this project appealed to me -- from being in that world that I know and inhabited myself and lived in for a long time," he tells THR. "My friends are owners and coaches and GMs and tons of players. I'm familiar with that world."
Like Cain, Elise also has a personal connection with her character in that she used to dance in her teens with a troupe that toured and competed internationally.
"When I went to college, I stopped dancing and hadn't danced in 30 years, which was great when the show came up because Sloane was in the same situation," she tells THR. "So we were both in the same kind of place, getting our rust off."
So will viewers see her dance on the show? "You'll have to tune in and see," she teases.
Hit the Floor premieres at 9 p.m. Monday on VH1. Watch a clip, which is exclusive to THR, below.