Living the Legacy

DStv Premium viewers are invited into the backstabbing billionaire lives of the scandalous Price family in Legacy this September

September is “on the money” on M-Net (DStv 101) with the launch of thrilling new telenovela Legacy from Monday 21, September. It has all the family feuds of a soap opera, the whodunnit of a thriller, and the big, big bucks of an international series filled with A-listers. And it’s all local as the Price family fight over patriarch Sebastian’s (Deon Lotz) CEO seat at his trillion-rand company Legacy Investments after Sebastian decides to step down. It’s Billions meets Dynasty meets Succession, filthy rich, fabulous, and best of all, local. But creating and understanding the world of the super-rich on SA budgets requires research and ingenuity.

Phathutshedzo Makwarela of Tshedza Pictures, executive producer and co-creator of Legacy, reveals that they didn’t need to research internationally to put together the storyline and characters. “We started by examining South African society and the audience we’re targeting. In South Africa, excessive display of wealth is still frowned upon. The real super-wealthy keep a low profile. They are not on Instagram or Twitter showing off their wealth, because that is deemed inappropriate. So, we’ve adopted very English aristocrat attitudes towards wealth. As it was tough to get a glimpse into their lives, we used our connections to get closer to those associated with some super wealthy people in order to find out more about their real lifestyles. We didn’t want to emulate the American model as it would not be a true reflection of South Africa.”

The fine print

When it came to creating the Legacy world, no stone was left untouched, explains Phathu and his scriptwriting partner at Tshedza, Gwydion Beynon, who are responsible for award-winning series like The River and Rockville on Mzansi Magic. And as you’ll read on, you’ll see that money isn’t the only driving force in the various powerplays taking place among the Prices…

Where did Legacy’s journey begin?

This has been a very long journey towards the premiere episode on Monday, 21 September. It began around the end of 2018, when we received a brief inviting us to submit a proposal for a daily drama for M-Net. Our original idea was something completely different, and the channel let us know that we were off the mark and challenged us to submit a proposal that was fresh and daring. We then had to go back to who we are, what has made us successful – high-stakes family melodrama with complex female characters. And that is how we ended up with Legacy.

What sort of discussion did you have with M-Net about placing Legacy within the world of the super-rich: what were they looking for and why?

They were very clear on what they wanted: a daily telenovela that was high-stakes, not just about wealthy people but a show that will be daring and thrilling. The brief wasn’t about presenting a show within the world of the super-rich, that is the direction we took as writers – the brief was about telling rich stories that are entertaining, thought-provoking and reflected the South African society today.

When you look at US shows like Billions, Succession and Dynasty, there’s a sense of real money involved (and behind the scenes that actually is the case, they’re incredibly expensive to make). What concerns did you have about creating a believable show about this world?

This is a concern that we live with as producers of the show, knowing that we have a budget that we must stick to, and yet we have to portray the world of the super-rich. The broadcaster has been very supportive of our ambitions, and we’ve also as writers and producers been very clever on how we project the world of the rich to the viewers.

In your own TV-watching past, what are some of the shows that had you drooling over the idea of being rich – just looking at this world onscreen of people who could have anything?

The manor house in period drama Downton Abbey for me remains one of the grandest houses on TV. You believed that family was rich. Though a show like the rebooted Dynasty looks rich, you kind of understand that the only way they’ve been able to make the show is that they shoot it on a backlot and the interiors are not a real house, but a set.

As writers and creators, what were some of the things that you did to get to grips with the world of big business and billionaire lives, as we (as both writers and viewers) generally don’t have much exposure to life at that level?

The blessing about being somewhat famous as television writers in this country is that our names carry a certain currency. We might not be as wealthy as the super-rich, but everyone is fascinated by the world of television – whether rich or not – so it’s a bit easy for us to get access to some of the people in big business. They are just like all of us, they are secretly fans of actors in our shows.

How does running a trillion-rand business like Legacy Investments on the show impact people’s time (and how they spend it) in real life, and how does that affect storytelling?

One of the biggest discoveries during our research has been how there is no such a thing as too much money – even for the super-rich. We’ve had to distil that in the Price household, that even though they love each other – they are fighting over a trillion-rand company and will go to the ends of the world to get their stake. So, time, because the most important thing in their life, (free, leisure) time for them is a measure of success.

What reading did you do into how trillion-rand businesses are run? And what were a couple of your biggest takeaways from that that were important in the story?

The past 10 years of South African politics have been the biggest source of research. We saw a big shift between business and politics, how big money collides with the state – and the whole fallout played out in the public domain. We all know the big business scandals that we all read about in newspapers for a whole decade. The rise and fall of so many companies that had become an institution in the South African economy. The big takeaway was how wealth and power have a grip over every facet of the country – that big business is the real leader.

What are some of the story and character signals (aside from wardrobe and sets) that you placed in the story to reinforce the impressions of richness?

What was key for us was understanding what is the prize – and what is their attitude towards the prize. It’s very clear from episode 1 that the Prices have dinner and golf days with the rich and powerful, they have the private cellphone numbers of the president saved in their cellphones – these are story threads that we show in the series. You know that they are very close with the minister of finance – every political decision affects their bottom line. That is how we demonstrate power through them.

How does the Price family represent a range of the attitudes towards wealth within South Africa?

Firstly we had to ask ourselves what are the attitudes people who are rich have towards wealth – for instance, the middle sister, Elizabeth (Reandi Grey), is uncomfortable about the amount of wealth in her family, whereas her younger sister Lexi (Jay Anstey) has no issues with the fact that her father is rich, she is the typical born-free rich girl who carries no guilt and makes no apologies about it. Then you have Felicity (Mary-Anne Barlow), who is more conservative towards money – she won’t flaunt her wealth but she is not ashamed of it. Those three sisters have three differing points of views towards their family’s wealth, which is a reflection of so many people. Then you have Dineo (Kgomotso Christopher), the Meghan Markle of the family – she’s still getting accustomed to this kind of wealth.

While creating Legacy, what were some of your thoughts on the ethics of billionaires, because on the one hand, we want South Africans to be able to achieve and succeed at the highest level, but we’ve also seen globally the harm that wealth inequality causes. How will that come into the show?

This was something we had to honestly be conscious about – what does wealth mean in South Africa, when so many South Africans are poor. How do we create a show that is aspirational and still aware of the society we live in. These are some of the themes that the show deals with – issues of economic transformation, wealth inequality, and the hot-debated issue of land are some of the themes that we explore in this show – but it’s all wrapped around melodrama of backstabbing, blackmail and tons of passionate affairs.

Watch Legacy S1 from Monday, 21 September on M-Net (DStv 101) at 19:00 or on Catch Up

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