“All American” showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll wants the show’s collegiate spinoff, “All American: Homecoming,” to “bring a world to the screen” that many people may not be familiar with — the world of a historically Black college. Inspired by the NBC sitcom “A Different World,” which ran from 1987 to 1993 as a spinoff of “The Cosby Show” and most famously portrayed life at an HBCU, Carroll is hoping her show will showcase why HBCUs feel like “a form of coming home” for their students.
The series — set against the backdrop of the fictional Bringston University — will follow Simone (Geffri Maya), a young tennis hopeful from Beverly Hills, as she looks to reenter the sport, and Damon (Peyton Alex Smith), an elite baseball player from Chicago facing immense pressure.
The new hourlong drama received a series order from The CW in May and will air a backdoor pilot as a part of the third season of “All American” before the new series launches in 2022. Ahead of that episode, which airs July 5 at 8 p.m., Variety talks with Okoro Carroll about the development of the new show and expanding stories beyond the halls of high school and the football field.
What led you to decide to do a spinoff of “All American”?
I was inspired to do a spinoff because there’s so much story to tell in this world — of Black youth and student athletics and the pursuit of a dream. That’s the heart of what Spencer Paysinger’s story is in “All American,” and he’s our catalyst to go into that world, so spinning it off felt very organic because we’ve been blessed with such a fantastic ensemble cast, who all have dreams and aspirations and all have different experiences as Black youth in this country.
In terms of who to spin it off with and the world we’re putting it in, I wanted to keep the heart and essence of “All American,” which is that — underneath everything else — it is a sports drama. The pursuit of an athletic dream comes with its own unique set of pressures and complications, and highs and lows, and so wanted to keep the essence of the mothership show by keeping it rooted in that sports world, which is why we are diving into tennis and baseball at the collegiate level. Simone seemed like the best character to take us into that world.
Both series focus on young Black athletes dealing with various obstacles and the pressures that come with an elite sport. What are you eager to cover in terms of new ground or themes?
Specifically, we’re looking at Black women in tennis. Looking at the rise of the Serenas, and the Venuses of the world and the Naomi Osakas. I wanted to delve into that experience. There are a unique set of challenges that come with being a Black woman in a sport like that. I’m so in awe of those women that I wanted to pay tribute by honoring their journey and shedding a little bit of light through Simone’s journey, of what it really takes to excel at that level as a Black woman in that sport.
Also, baseball has such an interesting legacy with the Black community, and it’s a legacy that feels like it’s been eroded a little bit, with the diminishing numbers of Black players in the league. It’s a sport that it feels like our youth are being priced out of, but it’s a great American sport — it’s the sport of Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, of so many great players, and so I wanted to pay homage to that. By exploring baseball at a historically Black college, specifically through the character of Damon and the push and pull — both on and off the diamond — that he feels to excel in this sport, not just for him but for who he represents — if I can bring a little bit of baseball back to our community, then that’s a great thing.
Because we’re on a college campus, the beauty is we get to have representation from everywhere — not just domestically, but internationally. We get to really dig in and explore all the beautiful multitude of Blackness — a real sort of array of the diaspora. And then, of course, they’re in college and what’s better than the unsupervised adult sexiness of college and kids finally being out from curfew? They’re adults, but they’re not, and that combination brings fantastic melodrama that we’re looking forward to having on the screen.
Will we see “All American” stars on the show as recurring guest stars, or will these shows largely remain separate from each other?
We’re just getting started writing-wise on an “All American” for Season 4, and we’ll be jumping into the room for Season 1 of “Homecoming” in a few weeks, and so all of that is still being figured out, but we were very much intentionally creating a universe. We very much want to keep the universe and keep those crossovers and have characters bounce back and forth between both shows as much as we can.
What issues are you hoping to tackle in this series that you may not have been able to in the original?
One of the biggest things is [that] college is its own world of being in charge of your decisions in a way that our youth on “All American” haven’t had a chance to experience yet. So, really diving into what happens when our youth need to take ownership for their actions and deal with the consequences of that on a much more adult level. Specifically, at an HBCU, it’s not your regular college experience. The subject matter that is talked about is not necessarily the exact same approach as what you would see in a predominantly white college institution, and so really leaning into that. I think, in general, our subject matter is going to skew a little bit older, a little bit sexier, but still high stakes — the same way we saw on “All American” — and still aspirational and still, at the end of the day, about your chosen family.
“All American: Homecoming” will be the latest show to join a small number of college-set shows airing currently. What are some of the challenges of setting a show at college in general, and specifically at an HBCU?
There’s such a vast array of subject matters you could tackle when you’re setting a show on a university campus because of the diversity of the student bodies, the diversity of the teachers. All of their lives are their own branches, and so one of the challenges is really honing in on the stories we want to tell so they don’t feel watered down — really giving people a chance to fall in love with these characters and fall in love with Bringston University.
Specifically for a show that’s set on an HBCU campus, really embracing the study of Black culture and why HBCUs were created in the first place and what purpose they serve. We really want to pay homage to that and really give [people] a look at Black excellence and Black joy and Black culture and how we can be better changemakers in the world.