Her Newest Venture in the World of Reality Television on the OWN Network
By Inez Barberio
Autism advocate, author, actress, and mother of four, Holly Robinson Peete shares with the world her personal life and how she and husband Rodney Peete keep their family unified with love and laughter.
Family values, laughter, strong work ethics with a few twists and turns is what you see in Holly Robinson Peete’s new reality show ‘For Peete’s Sake’ that debuted on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network this spring. There won’t be any tables flipping, vulgar language, or manipulative plots, rather Holly Robinson Peete has introduced us to a new reality television show that works with love, respect, positivity and patience.
Given the lack of positive television to watch, let alone reality TV, ‘For Peete’s Sake’ is a fun and entertaining show with dilemmas, plot twists, and real life issues that are solved together with the Peete family. As Holly took a change from scripted television to opening up her personal life to viewers, she and husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete are very proud of the show. Holly describes ‘For Peete’s Sake’ as a combination of the television shows ‘Blackish’ and ‘Run’s House.’”
“I just wanted to see a different type of family in this genre of reality. That’s why I’m always saying it’s ‘Run’s House’ meets ‘Blackish.’ ‘Run’s House’ was a reality show that I really liked and held to high esteem. I love that family. All those kids have gone on to do great things and they still have that family love. I think that is the platinum standard for what I was thinking about doing.”
Stepping into the world of reality was not an overnight decision. Fears came along with this new avenue of life.
“Anything worthwhile, there is something that you are fearful of. You have to gamble anytime you are doing something like this. I’ve had people say, ‘Oh, now you are going to get divorced!’ I feel like we are on the Oprah Winfrey Network and there is a reason we are on this network. There is a level of integrity that the network has and I am so impressed by the way they partnered with us,” says Holly.
Holly had the opportunity to debut ‘For Peete’s Sake’ with an audience in New York City along with Rodney and her eldest children, twins RJ and Ryan. Holly was grateful for the experience.
“I loved it! I was watching my twins cringe the whole time because they don’t like to watch themselves. There’s nothing better than watching it with an audience really. We were in the room, so maybe the people were being courteous, but I felt the laughter was authentic, the connection was authentic, and that’s what you want.”
It was an interesting experience for Holly’s daughter Ryan who was surprised that the audience found it hilarious at the everyday things she did with her brothers. “Weird feeling,” to be exact.
Holly also brings her mom as a main character to the series. Fun loving, energetic, compassionate, Holly’s mother wanted to dispel any myths of ageism. In the premiere episode, you get to watch grandma get a tattoo for turning 80-years-old, which is something she has done since turning 75!
Holly can’t keep the smile off her face as she discusses her mom. “She’s like, ‘just because I am 80 doesn’t mean I have to be Sadie, Sadie, old lady. I can do a lot of things!’ She has embraced her age. It has pitfalls, because it drives us a little nuts sometimes, but I love the fact that she is just 80 and fabulous!”
As executive producers, Holly and Rodney take part in editing to protect the integrity of their children. They feel blessed with this opportunity and how their children were on board with the show, willing to expose themselves and show their flaws.
Holly explains, “We’re not a perfect family, but we’re a family that tries to work through life. There are always going to be people out there that say it’s not realistic, but we all know families like the Peete’s. There’s a connection and we need to see more of that type of image. I truly feel that way.”
‘For Peete’s Sake’ shows Holly’s family unity. She and Rodney keep an open communication with their children and discuss current events, situations, and controversy. During dinner, they play a game called ‘Table Topics’ to engage in conversation with one another. From the first episode, there is an instant connection with the Peete family and it is easy to become part of their reality.
Life and reality focus much on Holly’s eighteen-year-old son RJ. RJ was diagnosed with autism at the age of three and Holly has been a strong advocate for autism ever since.
Holly’s philanthropic endeavors include the HollyRod Foundation. The foundation began when her father Matthew T. Robinson Jr., the original Gordon on ‘Sesame Street’ was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the young age of 45. It was later expanded to include services for families of autism.
“The HollyRod Foundation provides families impacted by Parkinson’s and autism opportunities and access to resources.” Holly continues to explain, “Kids in communities of color can be diagnosed two to five years later than other communities and they are missing that window of time for intervention. We have to get our kids diagnosed sooner. HollyRod has really been a beacon of light to help families, not just of color, but for people who don’t know who to talk to about this. It’s been a blessing for us. It has been like our fifth child.”
RJ is actively involved with the HollyRod Foundation as he attends openings of RJ’s House, and extension of the HollyRod Foundation with Holly and reads to kids with autism at the Foundation as well as many other events.
“RJ is an advocate for other kids affected by autism, and Ryan is an amazing advocate of siblings of kids with special needs. She’s been her brother’s keeper for a long time.”
As the twins became teens, they found it difficult to find any books in the major publishing world dealing with teens with autism. Collaborating with their mother, ‘Same But Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express’ came to life.
“Our book ‘Same But Different’ mirrored what we were going through. The experiences that we have, you never hear about kids turning into teenagers, turning into adults with autism. What happens to those kids? They grow up.”
Holly and her twins took their time writing this book as it was important for RJ’s voice to be heard. Through many interviews, breaks, and moments where RJ no longer wanted to be part of it, ‘Same But Different’ was eventually completed and published. Holly found that the time it took to write was well worth the wait.
“Moments he gave us such morsels, such nuggets of gold, we couldn’t even believe he was saying these things. And then he would shut down for a month. Kids on the spectrum and families affected by autism don’t have a whole lot of books out there that tell people what they are going through.”
Ryan at times found it difficult to write this book since it dealt with real emotions and real life experiences she faced with her brother RJ.
Ryan explains, “There is one instance in the book where RJ was being taken advantage of by this group of guys, but he sees it as them being friendly with them, but they were like, ‘well, he doesn’t process things well, so let’s take advantage of this.’ That’s something that really happened when I was in the 8th grade. I documented everything that happened in that year because it was such a rough year for him and on our family in general.”
As Ryan prepares to leave for college this fall, it is a new challenge that she and her brother must face. ‘Same But Different’ addresses many of these situations not shown in the media. Ryan and her family are excited for readers to hear and share their story from an insider’s perspective.
Holly shows no fear of moving forward in life with constant changes. She looks at these changes as opportunities.
“It’s just about reinvention. It’s about not being afraid to change and we live in a time with social media where you can self-brand and do so many things you couldn’t do back in the eighties. To be an author, to be able to have the opportunity to write, to create, to be a philanthropist, all those things are open to us.”
In addition to her reality show, philanthropic endeavors, and writing, Holly continues to make guest appearances in television shows, most recently ‘Chicago Fire.’ She is also working on a new apparel line coming out on ‘EVINE Live.’ Her summer will be busy with the HollyRod Foundation fundraiser which will be held mid-July. Hopefully after the fundraiser, she will have time for a nice, relaxing family getaway!
For more information on the HollyRod Foundation, go to www.hollyrod.org.
‘Same But Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express’ is now available at all bookstores.