Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
In this week’s episode, Variety’s senior TV reporter Daniel Holloway and TV reporter Elizabeth Wagmeister talk with “American Crime” creator John Ridley and star Benito Martinez about the show’s final season, legacy on television, and possible future.
The ABC series wrapped up its third and final season earlier this year, but despite not being picked up for the 2017-2018 season, Ridley admits he was surprised the show even lasted for three seasons. In fact, Ridley said he never thought the network would move forward past the pilot.
“My inclination was this is not going to happen and I’m probably not going to do want to do it, if I did want to do it, I doubt the network is going to do want to do it in the way I want to do it,” Ridley said, recalling back to when “American Crime” was in the works and ABC has expressed interest in a limited series about race. At that time, Ridley had not yet won the Oscar for “12 Years a Slave.”
“No disrespect to network television, but I didn’t think I’d want to come to a place where there’s going to be copious notes and a lot of dictates and things like that,” Ridley said. “Every step of the way, my expectations or my beliefs were upended. It was really about a partnership with a network that was very committed to telling stories that were urgent and immediate and not represented elsewhere and a big part of that then was representing characters that I just don’t think had been on TV, certainly not in the near term.”
Throughout its run, the critically-acclaimed show never garnered a huge audience, but did bring awards clout to the broadcast network. Ridley and Martinez say they understand why ABC opted not to move forward with a fourth season, given broadcast’s need to measure a show’s success based on ratings, but the duo remains hopeful for the future of storytelling on television, whether or not that includes more “American Crime.”
“I mean, look, we live in a space where people are watching ‘Full House’ again,” Ridley said. “If we live in a world now where there is an audience for ‘Fuller House’ and that audience can be satisfied, all I know is that they will allow us, if it’s not ‘American Crime,’ something else that’s equally as challenging. Or it’s about, ‘Hey, our metrics show that there are eight people that want this show, but they’re going to keep their subscriptions because we have it,’ that’s a better world,” he added, alluding to streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu. “I’m not going to say like I have insider information and there’s going to be more ‘American Crime,’ but I think there’s an opportunity for us to be able to do shows where we challenge people, frankly, we confound people and that’s one of my big enjoyments of doing the show.”
Regardless of the future of “American Crime,” Ridley is optimistic about the state of broadcast TV, saying, “Whether it’s ‘American Crime’ or ‘This Is Us,’ broadcast is not done and don’t take it for granted and don’t take the size of the audience for granted. That makes me feel good. So I’m very happy for what we were able to do … again, I’m not saying literally as ‘American Crime,’ but yeah, there’s always the opportunity to tell these kinds of stories, to partner with terrific performers, to represent ways that have not been represented.”
Ridley and Martinez agreed that aside from realistic storytelling on-screen, they’re most proud of the show’s work behind the scenes, employing diverse people from all walks of life.
“My biggest regret or concern about not returning,” Ridley said, “is that the majority of our directors, the majority of our producers, the majority of our post-production staff, the majority of people who are in critical decision-making positions on ‘American Crime’ have been women or people of color. From the moment I got out to L.A., that has always been the primary driver.”
As for the show’s legacy, Ridley hopes that other networks and showrunners will continue to hire women and people of color, just like he did on “American Crime.”
“I look at how many people came through ‘American Crime’ who now have a very substantial show on their resume and have moved into other spaces, we’re very proud of that,” he said. “I hope in that not being around, other shows, if you’re hiring people from your own background, your own world view, your own experience, you’re not doing enough.”
You can listen to this week’s episode here: