The producers of “Venus & Serena: For Real (search)” couldn’t have asked for better timing for the premiere of their new show. When it was announced earlier this year, a reality series about the daily lives of the tennis champs from Compton, Calif. seemed about as exciting as watching paint dry.
Then Venus Williams won Wimbledon (search).
“We got lucky,” says executive producer Fernando Hernandez.
In fact, Venus’ dramatic showdown against Lindsay Davenport is foreshadowed on the six-week series, which debuts Wednesday at 10 p.m. EDT on ABC Family, when they play against each other at a match in Charleston, S.C.
The red-hot tennis champ comes across as the more disciplined of the sisters (in one scene in the premiere, Serena rides in a golf cart alongside Venus as she jogs on a Florida beach.)
And the more vulnerable. When Venus loses a tennis match against a player she admires, she goes into a quiet funk, then watches a video of the match replayed at a gym the next day while she’s on the treadmill, so she can correct her mistakes.
Still, Venus needs some cheering up from her younger sister. And Serena, recovering from a tennis-related injury and happily designing fashions for her unfortunately named company, Aneres, is always there to give it.
In fact, the bond between the Williams girls, who live together in a pink, Spanish-style home in West Palm Beach, Fla., gives “Venus & Serena” a truly “real” feel.
“They rely on each other because they don’t have a huge community in the tennis world that understands them,” says Fernando Hernandez, who, along with Pura, was an executive producer.
Their world is a punishing grind of tournaments, pleasingly bland hotel rooms and practice routines.
Hernandez, who, along with Pura, was also an executive producer on the Carmen Electra-Dave Navarro show “’Til Death Do Us Part,” says, “These young ladies want to go out and do all kinds of things, but they have to stay in shape and practice for four hours a day. They don’t have many late nights. Rock stars will play hungover, but you can’t do that in a tennis match.”
Of course, Venus and Serena would not be the tennis champs they are today without the drive and the guidance of their father, Richard Williams, who makes very brief appearances on the series. “He was a gentleman, a professional,” says Hernandez. “He’s all business. That’s the best way to put it.”
And Venus and Serena are the family business. Mother Oracene Price is their coach. Elder sister Isha, an attorney, is their business manager. As the African-American mavericks in a predominantly white professional tennis world, Venus and Serena needed their family to get to the top.
Says Hernandez, “The entire family circles their wagons and takes every issue head-on as a group and shows [you] where their championship spirit comes from.”