'The Carmichael Show' Star Reflects on Renewal Delay, "President Trump" and What's Next

Co-creator, EP and star Jerrod Carmichael also talks to THR about whether he would shopped the multi-cam comedy to other networks if NBC hadn't picked up a third season.
Chris Haston/NBC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Sunday's season two finale of The Carmichael Show, "President Trump."]

It's been an eventful few weeks for Jerrod Carmichael, on screen and off.

On Sunday's season two finale of The Carmichael Show, his character proposed to Maxine (Amber Stevens West), only to have his new fiancée go toe-to-toe with his father Joe (David Alan Grier) over presidential candidate Donald Trump. The episode ended with the two telling his parents the good news in the hospital where Jerrod was being treated for injuries he sustained at a Trump rally.

Behind the scenes, the finale comes just weeks after the show's future hung in the balance. Ahead of NBC's annual upfront presentation, the network delayed on picking up a third season because it couldn't come to an agreement over an episode order with 20th Century Fox Television, which co-produces the multi-cam with Universal Television. NBC released its fall and midseason schedule on May 15 with no news about The Carmichael Show, despite outcry from critics and fans.

The show was eventually picked up a 13-episode third season later that very day, but when the good news came through, Carmichael says he wasn't the first to get the good news.

"[NBC Entertainment president] Jen Salke had my home number, and by home, I mean my family's number in North Carolina, because that's how long I've been in business with NBC. So she called that before reaching me and she actually broke the news to my father first. She was like, 'We did it! We reached a deal! We're moving forward!' She was so excited, and my dad was like, 'Wait, what?' So my dad knew before I did," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "By the time I called my family, my aunt was over there and everyone was in the background yelling."

With that happy ending and season three on the way, Carmichael spoke with THR about whether he would have shopped the show to another network, the season finale and season three.

Take me back to the weekend before the upfronts, when everything was up in the air. How did you deal with that? When did you first realize this renewal was not going to come as easily as the renewal for season two?

It came down to such a technical thing. I think that, thankfully, what the show is and what it has the potential to be is pretty clear at this point. I have a lot of confidence in that. It just came down to a really technical thing. I was pretty confident it would get resolved. I think, for me, it didn't feel as touch-and-go as I think it appeared. I was pretty confident, and again, the show has potential, and look, you also have to accept how fickle this industry is. So either outcome, I actually would have been like, all right. I was kind of cool with whatever the outcome was. I was excited to do more, and also accept the realities of television.

Had you started to have any thoughts about where you might take the show if it wasn't picked up? How far did that thinking get for you?

It always goes to that place, and people were really excited and all the calls were like, "Well, we could do this," and it was a lot of options. We had conversations about, you know, what the next thing would be, but for me, it just would be a new, different thing.

Like a different show, you mean?

I think so. Look, I think what this show is is intertwined with the potential of what NBC can be. I think that NBC, at its best, has sophisticated comedies that are smart, that are genuinely edgy, that are exciting and fun, and I think that this show kind of embodies that. I think that I created a show for NBC. All of my actions leading up to the show were all aimed toward NBC. Part of my goal is to contribute to the rebuilding of the NBC brand of comedy, and that's what I set out to do. If this show doesn’t contribute, can no longer contribute, then we move on to the next thing.

When you might not get picked up, what do you walk away from that experience thinking? Did that change your perspective?

No, I think we as creators, you can never be surprised by the business that you enter in. It's only healthy to be aware of it and aware of the roller-coaster that it can be and to accept that and to do everything that you logically can to keep your project afloat, but that’s pretty much all you can do. Again, the limbo of it all, it's never like, oh my God! Its never so jarring and shocking. It's television, and that’s the reality of it. We're all here to move Johnson & Johnson products. The second you forget that, you're off the air.

Since you had the late pickup, the show isn't on the fall schedule and is not yet on the midseason schedule. What talks have you had with NBC about that?

We kind of know when we'll go back, not necessarily certain when we'll air. I kind of don’t even consider it. I obviously have a lot of thoughts on how to roll it out, and we'll have some great conversations with NBC. But mostly, as long as the people can see it, I'm happy.

Moving to the finale, first off, what was the idea behind the title of "President Trump" as opposed to "Donald Trump" or "Candidate Trump"?

It's the acceptance of a potential reality. I'm sure it looks jarring and some people are going to really hope that that never happens, and some people will hope that it does. It's as divisive as politics naturally are.

You took on a lot of political figures, both past and present. How was that part of that process? Since politics are so divisive, did that change the dynamic in the writer's room?

We just find truth. Some of those thoughts are from stand-ups and some are those thoughts are things I've said in arguments. The political arguments that we've all had, all just kind of come out.… All of your arguments, when you're in the writer's room, it all comes rushing back to you.

The episode doesn't touch on Trump's specific platform as much as it is this candidate versus that candidate. How did you decide how to approach Trump for the episode?

My intention is to always hold up a mirror -- that's the thing that I really like. Really, this episode is about is your reaction to those you disagree with. When you disagree on politics, which so many families do, it's like, how do you respond to that? How do you react to that? Are you dismissive? Dave Chappelle once said that he doesn't like the term "crazy" because he considers it dismissive, and I really love that, because it's really, very true. We hear it so many times in politics. "Oh, they support this guy? They're crazy." So it's more so the response to who someone's voting for than anything else. It's about not about Trump. As much as it is, it's almost not about him at all.

This episode also showed your character proposing to Maxine. Why did you decide to include that?

The excitement over the juxtaposition over the thing that creates families right beside the thing that divides family the most.

How will you cover the engagement in season three? I love the idea of your show taking on the American wedding industry.

Listen, that's going to be fun. I already have a few ideas. (Laughs) [Executive producers] Danielle [Sanchez-Witzel] and Ari [Katcher] called me with an idea yesterday about the next season related to weddings and marriage and the preparation for that. It's exciting.

Why did you think it was the right time for the characters to get engaged?

I think we're always looking for the most authentic ways to grow, and I feel like it’s a relationship with two people who are very logical and take things very serious, and so I think it gives stakes to that relationship, and that's really important. Because I don’t think Jerrod and Maxine are crazy kids going through the motions anymore, so it's fun to explore the realities of making that relationship as official as you possibly can. This just contributes to that. It just felt like the right time.

Is there one thing you learned over the course of this season that you didn't know in season one?

You learn what roads you don't want to drive down. You learn what decisions made at 3 a.m. in the writer's room lead to success. And so you take these really specific, technical things with you. I think that's what we're taking into the next season, and really just a real love and understanding of the characters and who they are and what their decisions are and to go deeper into that.

What is one road you wouldn't go down again that you did this past season?

We're learning almost to exhaustion throughout this season about how authentic our turns have to be. Finding a way to come from a real emotional place is something that I think we will figure out until we're exhausted. We did, and we'll do it again. I think that's the most glaringly obvious thing to us in the writing process.

Looking ahead, it sounds like you've already started thinking about ideas for season three. What kind of topics do you know you want to cover next season?

It's mostly relationship stuff. As far as anything that may be topical, look, if something comes up and we're having conversations about it, we'll obviously dive in, but really it's just mostly relationships and leaning into my relationship with my parents and unresolved things. I'm at a place in my life where you start reflecting a lot on your childhood, and you reflect on the things that contributed to you becoming who you are. So wanting to explore character in as real of a way as possible, and I know that seems very general, but it really is the intention, to have these really rich conversations and rich moments and hopefully a couple realizations through the characters throughout the season.

That reminds me of the episode where Maxine's dad was introduced.

Yeah, more things like that. Really getting into the make-up of who these characters are.

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