AUBURN GRESHAM — Chicago’s favorite urban historian is taking his 60-second history lessons from the palm of your hand to the small screen.
Shermann “Dilla” Thomas— known as 6figga_dilla on TikTok — announced to his nearly 18,000 Twitter followers Friday that a streaming service loved the idea of a show he outlined and pitched. Next up is writing a pilot.
“Never wrote a pilot before but I’m from Chicago, so there really isn’t anything I can’t do,” he wrote.
Thomas said he’s working with streaming behemoth Netflix. The show would be produced by Chris Witaske, writer, producer and co-creator of Netflix series “Chicago Party Aunt.”
The series would be historical fiction and would follow a real Chicagoan, who Thomas isn’t revealing quite yet, he said. Over the course of six to eight episodes, viewers would dive into a portrayal of a yet-to-be-revealed historical event that took place in the “best city.”
Thomas said he came up with the idea for the show while working on one of his famous TikToks.
Thomas discusses how his TikTok page got started on our “It’s All Good” podcast:
Some historical stories can get the “60-second treatment,” he said, while others deserve more time.
“If I’m getting ready to make a TikTok about someone or something, I’ll be like, ‘This would be a cool series,'” Thomas said. “This series was one of the things I wanted to make a TikTok about but didn’t because I felt like one or two minutes wasn’t enough time to lay it out like I wanted to.”
When Thomas pitched the idea to Witaske and his team, they loved it, he said. But as someone who’s a historian, not a television writer, he had to dive into the depths of Google to figure out the next steps for making the idea into reality.
“They asked me to write a treatment,” Thomas said. “I didn’t know what a treatment was. I had to Google it. I didn’t tell them I didn’t know what it was. I told them, ‘Give me two weeks, and I got you.’”
Famous writers and actors from Chicago that follow Thomas’ work also helped him write his treatment, which is a detailed outline of the show, Thomas said.
Academy Award winner Matthew Cherry, creator of the short film, “Hair Love,” gave Thomas a call to walk him through the writing process, Thomas said. Actor Thomas Lennon, an Oak Park native who played Lt. Jim Dangle on “Reno 911,” also helped a lot.
Actor Jason Weaver, known for his roles in “Smart Guy” and “ATL,” also stepped up to help.
“Not only did [Weaver] give me pointers, but he’d hang up with me to call Lena Waithe, call me back, and tell me what to do,” Thomas said. “So many awesome Chicago people showed their support.”
Chance The Rapper was another Chicagoan who helped take the show to the next level, Thomas said.
While writing the treatment for the show, Thomas started thinking about who should play certain characters, he said.
Chance was the perfect pick for one of the co-lead roles, Thomas said, so Thomas pitched the rapper on his idea. Chance invited him to his studio, House of Kicks, and loved the idea, Thomas said.
Thomas said he plans to finish a pilot for the show before Black History Month.
“I plan on it being so good that they want to work on it right then and there,” he said.
In the meantime, Thomas is already thinking of another series he’d love to create.
Thomas wants to make the equivalent of “Boardwalk Empire,” but the “Chicago version,” he said.
“I want to follow a white guy from Bridgeport and a Black guy from Bronzeville, and I want to tell the history of Chicago through their lives,” Thomas said. “It’ll start at about the [World’s] Fair of 1893 and go to the days of Harold Washington.”
Thomas is basking in his blessings, he said. Already, screenwriters have started to pour into his DMs asking how they can get involved.
Thomas’ new show will, hopefully, help shift the narrative of what it means to be a Chicagoan, he said.
“I feel determined, and I feel responsible to help change the Chicago narrative, or at least provide some perspective,” Thomas said. “We have the issues we have today because of what historically happened. So, if you can better explain what historically happened, maybe you can fix what’s happening today.”
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: