James LaRosa: A Timely Tête-à-Tête with the Creator of Hit BET Series

  James LaRosa is the creator, showrunner and executive producer of Hit The Floor. Not only does he run an all-female writers’ room but he directed and appeared in several episodes this season.

  Born in Boston, James knew at the age of 9 that he wanted to write for TV. He began his assault on Hollywood as an assistant to former Saturday Night Live writer Margaret Oberman.

  He got his first break on the Dick Wolf-produced WB series, D.C. From there, he wrote made-for-television movies for CBS, MTV and VH1, as well as pilots for ABC Family, MTV, NBC, Sony and FOX.

  James earned a Daytime Emmy nomination in 2001 writing for MTV’s Spyder Games. In 2007, he merged his passion for tennis and writing and began blogging and reporting for Tennis Chanel, Tennis Magazine and USA Today. He also co-wrote young adult novel, The Academy: Game On.

  A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, James currently resides in Los Angeles. Here, he talks about the new season of Hit the Floor. The show airs Tuesday nights on BET at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Hi James, thanks for the interview.

  Nice to speak with you, Kam.

Congratulations on the fourth season of Hit the Floor. What inspired you to create the series?

  Thank you. Early in my career, I was writing what I thought people would go for and I didn’t like what I was doing, but you want to pay your bills and you want to launch things. You’d hear that a network was looking for a hospital drama or a certain kind of show and everyone would get the same message and everyone would develop the same show, and I was on that track. too.

  So I’d just finished a show that wasn’t my passion project. It didn’t feed me, although I had fun writing it. And afterwards, I needed some sort of a palette cleanser and I decided I’m going to just write this one show without paying attention to what people are asking for, or asking myself is this what’s hot and what’s selling, or what will my agent or the networks think of this. And I sat down and wrote an original pilot that hasn’t been made yet, but has gotten me every meeting I’ve had ever since. My career did a total 180 when I started writing what entertains me and what I find fun instead of stuff that was just for the paycheck, because that kills you.

How would you describe the show in 25 words or less?

  Behind the scenes professional basketball through the eyes of the players, dancers and managers. It’s sex, drama, dancing, and sports! 

Have you spent a lot of time around any professional players and cheerleaders?

  Yes, I researched the show in order for the characters to be real, and I spent time speaking to players and dancers, and I definitely have my moles. [Laughs and looks around] They absolutely love the show because they watch it and know the stuff really happens. The best part is when I talk to a player or a dancer who I’ve never spoken to before and they ask, “Who have you been talking to? Are you inside the locker room hiding in someone’s locker or speaking into the big flower because you’re getting all the scoops.” So when players spill all the tea, I’m there with a cup going, “I’ll catch it, I’ll catch!”

In the past, your groundbreaking series has explored a variety of timely themes, like LGBTQ issues. Can we expect it to continue to be on the cutting-edge this season, even though the show is moving from VH1 to BET? 

  The short answer is yes. We will continue to value diversity on the show, LGBTQ issues for sure and many other issues. Whether it’s about gender or race, we’ve done all sorts of storylines and will continue do so 100 percent in season four. In season two, we had a storyline where one of our dancers got married to another of our dancers because she was undocumented and the marriage allowed her not to be separated from her kid. At the time, I was thinking “That’s interesting storytelling,” and then welcome to 2018 and look what’s happening.

  The bigger answer is that in today’s climate, it’s pure theater and we are all puppets and they’re basically pitting us against each other like little marionettes saying, “You hate this person and you hate that person because they’re taking this from you and giving it to them.” I’m not into that. So this show has as many different kinds of people as it can. They may try to push you off the balcony, they might try and steal your man or steal your position on the dance team, but everyone’s from the same world and on equal ground.

How many episodes will you write and/or direct this year?

  This season, I wrote three and directed four. In the season finale, I have six credits: created by, executive producer, writer, director, actor, and I also wrote a rap for one of the songs.

Wow! How many episodes do you appear in?

  I act in three episodes.

Ling-Ju Yen asks: What is your earliest childhood memory?

  My earliest childhood memory is using my imagination at about the age of 3 while playing with a Batmobile and a little blue Batman and a little yellow Robin.

What is your favorite dish to cook?

  My favorite dish to cook? Hmm…There’s a giant assumption in that question! [Laughs] Well, I’m really more of a baker. I can bake a whole bunch of stuff: cupcakes and anything with sugar…I’m a sugar fiend. And I do it up, I’ll put flower petals on it and all kinds of decadent embellishments. I really want people to eat it and enjoy. But as for cooking meals, if I was on Survivor, I would die.

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

  Oh my God, aging!

If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

  To completely change the political climate that we are in right now. I would love for people to open their eyes and get information from places that are legit and practice a little bit more of the kindness they would like to receive themselves. And a Lamborghini!

Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

  Wow! Great question. Let me think…Where do you get your creativity from? I get it from my mom. When I was little, she would tell me these off the cuff little stories that were nonsense, but they were really entertaining. And because of her, I thought I could never be a writer because I could never be as quick as her. But the older you get, the more you work that muscle. You get quicker, you get more reference points. But my mother is no longer with me and so my instinct is to keep her alive, like by making her the question no one ever asks.

  She’s been gone for a couple of years now and she was a big fan of Hit the Floor, and the last conversion we had was after the season three premiere. She was very sick at that point and very weak, and she said “I just want you to know I know I saw it…” And that was the week she passed. So, I’m incredibly excited to be doing something she was excited about and to use the gifts she gave me, that I hope I’ve got enough of to keep her alive forever.

I’m sure you will. Finally, as Samuel L. Jackson asks: What’s in your wallet?

  Let’s see… [Begins pulling cards out of a compact wallet] Oh my gosh! Hold on…Okay, here’s a credit card, another credit card, ATM, driver’s license, Starbucks card, health insurance card, another Starbucks card, auto insurance card, and another Starbucks card. So, anyone will tell you I’m over-caffeinated.

  The fact that there’s so little in my wallet is because I used to be a hoarder. I used to collect every issue of TV Guide, every issue of Entertainment Weekly and then it came to a point where I was like, “It’s not cute” and I threw it all out, 10 paper bags full, and it felt great. I recommend to anymore to just get rid of your stuff. [Whispers] And now I have this tiny little wallet with three credit cards and 700 coffee cards. You know I was really hoping there’d be something really nasty in my wallet, but yeah, that’s everything.

Thanks again for the time, James, and best of luck with the new season.

  My pleasure, Kam.