Cliffnotes: Living Double by JaNeika and JaSheika James
To read Living Double is to live television — watching it, creating it — through the eyes of JaNeika and JaSheika James.
I had the honor of interviewing the James twins, co-executive producers of the “Gossip Girl” spinoff, back in February. Because life often gets in the way, it took me until this month to finally read their book, Living Double: How Identical Twins Unlocked the Door to Success in Hollywood. It was a case of “better late than never” as their part-memoir, part-motivational book satisfied both the TeenDramaWhore in me and the part of me who had a mid-college crisis and contemplated changing her major from journalism to screenwriting.
The book begins with two forewards and I was so enamored with the second one by TV executive Mioshi Jade Hill that I have to excerpt part of it.
“If you were to wander onto the dreamscape of JaNeika and JaSheika James, it would look like the wonderland of a vintage studio lot. Stroll down the white-washed sidewalks of La La Land aligned with the razor sharp emerald hedges of Edward Scissorhands. Listen well and you’ll hear of the soft trickle of Dawson’s Creek in the background — its tranquil melody disrupted with horn blasts of morning traffic as four sistas Living Single hustle off to big jobs in a ‘‘90s kind of world.’ Sirens lead you to the gates of General Hospital; onlookers and bystanders pressed around the entrance to see who shot Sonny… or perhaps that’s J.R. up from Dallas? The wind whips through your hair as you look up to the awesome sight of Harry Potter’s soaring broom in a game of Quidditch. Yes, this is in fact A Different World, as you pass the Hillman college campus, bustling with bright, young people eager to change the world.
Your senses are now on overload. The mouth-watering aroma of grilled burgers and fries waft from 90210’s Peach Pit. The resounding crisp smack of Erica Kane slapping a quarreling lover… swift movement to your right as Buffy the Vampire Slayer leaps over an open grave giving chase to a vampire foe. You see, smell and hear everything. You have never felt more alive. And at the center of it all is the maestro of this circus hyperreality. His voice booms at every passerby, including the Pretty Woman who crosses his intersection… they share a smile and then looks beyond her to stare directly at you. You blink and all of a sudden he’s gone. In his place stands the James sisters. They wear his grin, his swagger and even the bold tone of his voice as they reach welcoming arms out to you and say his famous line, ‘Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream?’ This book is their welcome to the land of dreams, and I have never met tour guides more equipped to help you nagivate manifesting your dreams into reality.”
Wow. That TV-filled dreamscape is my idea of heaven. It was also heavenly to read chapter three of the book, “Leap of Faith: How a Visit to Dawson’s Creek Changed Us Forever.” As the James’ and I discussed in our interview, the sisters were “Dawson’s Creek” superfans who traveled to Wilmington, North Carolina, during a school break in 2000 and wound up as extras on the show. The experience introduced them to the world of television production and inspired them to start their journey from TV fanatics to TV producers.
“Beverly Hills, 90210” is mentioned in the book a couple of times, although in every instance — including in the book-ending list, “A Few of Our Favorite TV Shows That Inspired Us Growing Up” — it’s called “90210.” I’m sorry, but this is a hill I am ALWAYS going to die on: “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “90210” are two different shows. And in every instance they wrote “90210,” they actually meant “Beverly Hills, 90210.” To be fair, before The CW’s “90210” came around, “90210” was synonmous with FOX’s “Beverly Hills, 90210.” But in 2008 that all changed and since then it has driven me bonkers whenever “Beverly Hills, 90210” is referred to as “90210” because they are no longer one and the same and haven’t been for more than 10 years now.
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Stepping off my soapbox, it was fun learning what other show interests we have in common, including “California Dreams,” “Full House,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “Hang Time,” “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” “Saved by the Bell,” “The Nanny,” “Who’s the Boss?”… and, of course, “Empire,” which JaNeika and JaSheika worked on as writers and producers. And the description of their trip to the Harry Potter studios in London sparked all kinds of jealousy.
I’m generally not one for motivational books and I don’t really buy into “manifesting,” which is a big theme of Living Double. But I still found it fascinating to learn every twist and turn of their careers in television. And besides our mutual television obsession, I especially appreciated chapter 18, “Frankly, My Dear, I Don’t Give a Damn: Using Our Authentic Voice.” JaNeika writes:
“I’ve come to the point where it’s difficult for me to respect people if they aren’t revealing their authentic self. We work in television with other creatives who are sensitive and can, therefore, receive some of the things we say in ways they are not intended. When I first got staffed, it was a little daunting how people tiptoed around giving their opinions because they were operating from a fear of offending others, instead of being truthful. Polite isn’t necessarily authentic.”
JaSheika notes how her sister will “give her honest opinion about various subjects fearlessly, regardless of what other people think. At times, people are like, ‘OMG!’ or ‘What?’ But they respect her for being honest and speaking her mind freely, and often they wish they were so bold.” Really, JaNeika and I may be soul sisters because I live my life… especially at work… the exact same way. (And my boss would confirm this.)
JaNeika argues that “how everyone should be in real life” is “say what’s on your mind, not rudely or disrespectfully, but in a way that is true to yourself.” Adds JaSheika, “We should be able to operate in every area of our lives, but particularly in our professional lves, being true to our authentic selves.” Amen.
Through reading Living Double, I had an opportunity to learn more about JaNeika and JaSheika’s authentic selves — and I’m so glad I did. They have a few shows in development and I can’t wait to see where their careers go. Stay tuned, fellow TeenDramaWhores, because I think they’ll go far.
Absolutely love that you bring your authentic self to work every day, Shari!