[INTERVIEW] Executive Producer Phil Thornton Talks ‘R&B Divas’ Franchise, Rumored Conflict With Nicci Gilbert + Confirms Da Brat’s New Reality Show

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Executive Producer Phil Thornton w/ Michel’le (of R&B Divas LA)

Rarely do we get a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes in reality TV. Most of us (*raises hand*) are more consumed what goes on in front of the camera, but as of late, I’ve been intrigued by the folk behind the lens. Recently, Jasmine BRAND sat down with Phil Thornton, the executive producer of TV One’s “R & B Divas” and “R&B Divas LA“. In an exclusive interview, we chatted with the Virginia native about how he landed in the industry, the R&B Divas franchise, what appears to be conflict between he and one of the show’s creators (Nicci Gilbert) and what other hush-hush shows have reality TV shows in the mix (one show centers around a Destiny’s Child member, while another focuses on a female rapper).

Check out our conversation below.

Work and TV aside, who is Phil Thornton?

Phil Thornton is a Norfolk, Virginia native, I graduated from Norfolk State University, I interned at a local radio station and I did my second internship at Arista Records in ’95, and I went on to do artist management for a variety of artists which later segwayed into my foray into television. My first TV show was ‘I Married A Baller’ with Taj and Eddie George. I used to manage SWV when they reunited, thats how I started.

Now, the first time I heard your name was in on twitter when I think you and Nicci Gilbert were having a disagreement during the first season, while one of the episodes was airing. And we’ll get back to that, but what is your exact title and what does that mean–like what do you DO?
An executive producer oversees all aspects of the production, makes sure we are delivering the show that was pitched and sold to the network, we actually layout the creative for the series, deliver it within budget, on time. We are basically the liaison, in the production sense, between the network and the talent, during the production phase.
All the story lines, all the creative, hiring the crew, anything that you can thing of the executive producer oversees in every aspect. The network is looking to us for answers everyday. We wear many hats.
 Why do they think that you’re good at what you do? 
I love what I do, I don’t see it as a job. I wake up like ‘Wow whats up for today?’ like ‘What else can we develop? What else can we do?’ I love my job.
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So let’s start with R&B Divas Atlanta, how did you get involved with this project?
I got a phone call from a good friend, who I used to manage, Faith Evans. And she called me about this concept that her, and one of her friends, Nicci Gilbert, had developed. Another production partner who they were pitching the show to, things didn’t work out. So they called me like ‘Hey man, I got this new idea, I know you do TV. Could you maybe help me? I think it’s a good idea, but this is more of your world. You know this space.’ So from that point I called my partner, Paul Coy Allen, who is also the executive producer for the series, and I told him about it.  We went through the creative with Faith and Nicci, and we thought that we should partner with them. So we did that, pitched the show, and I thought it would be great to take to TV One.
Season 1 has been completely different from season 2. What are your thoughts, watching? 
You know what? I was proud. I was proud of season 1. It was great because I was on the ground. I was there every single day. It was fun. It was just good to see what was just an idea become a reality, and then see people really, really receive it. And I just thought it was really refreshing to see R&B music have such a cool platform, so for me it was a blessing. I was excited.
Why was Faith MIA so much (on season 2)? 
Faith had a lot of personal and professional commitments that didn’t align with our production schedule but she made herself available when she could and we are grateful.

Now, there seems to be this underlying or actually blatant conflict between you and Nicci Gilbert, who is the show’s creator. How did that start? 

I don’t have an issue. I really don’t. At the end of the day, I’m grateful for her and Faith basically developing this idea and bringing it to me. So I don’t have an issue. I can’t speak for Nicci. I can only speak for my contribution to the project and I know that I’ve done right and above board business by all 13 ladies in the cast. Take a survey. But I can’t speak for her issue. I really don’t know. I had nothing to do with the petition. I don’t have enough time. I have several shows, I manage artists, I have an executive position and to do a petition…no. I would rather have a sit down one on one with the respected party and say ‘You know what, maybe we should explore a different direction.’ But I wouldn’t dare do a petition. And anybody who knows me will tell you I’m very ‘What you see is what you get.’
Have you tried to talk to her, to iron out your differences, egos aside? 
I don’t know what the issue is. My number has always been the same. My email has been the same. So I haven’t received a call or had any meeting. I’m open to it because I personally don’t have an issue with any of the ladies. Any of them.
What’s next for R&B Divas….and the cast?
Hopefully, there will be a third season. The ratings have been really, really good. I’m optimistic there will be a season 3. I hope everybody comes back.
Why a spin-off and why in LA?
Its so many divas based there. I looked at other cities and am even considering other cities for future spinoff. It was perfect.
Everyone wants to be on reality TV. When you’re casting, how do you know or see that ‘it’ factor?

Their level of honesty and transparency is always the first thing I look at. How open, honest and real they are. People, when they are on TV if they are guarded and they don’t want to share something it’s going to come across. I always look for people who are open and honest and this is who I am,  take it or leave it and generally that does well for television.

Does a tiny part of you want to be in front of the TV more?
No. This is interesting right here. Not for me. Different strokes for different folks.
What else are you working on? 
I am developing a show with Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child  also I am developing a family docu-series with Tamala Mann and her family. We will see Michelle and her journey and her career recording this wonderful record that is coming out in February and her family dynamic, she has two sisters that are very close to her and are personalities in their own right. I always told Michelle ‘People need to see who you really are.’ She is really a sweetheart, she is hilarious. If you get her and Lil Mo in a room you will be in stitches, in tears. They are two of the funniest people, I know. I just want to show that side of Michelle because I feel people don’t get to know that.
Me and Da Brat are developing a hip project with all hip hop ladies, its slightly different from ‘Diva’s’ in some ways, but I’m excited about it.
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What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Stay humble. Don’t take it for granted.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

I love your show

Who is your best friend?
Jesus. Outside of that, my mom. I couldn’t have done it without her.

Watch the full interview below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

For all things Phil Thornton, follow him on twitter and Instagram.

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Authored by: tjbwriteratlanta