Jerrod Carmichael on Season 2 "Potential," Ignoring Network Notes and Advice From Norman Lear

Watch an exclusive sneak peek from the season-one finale, "Guns."
Courtesy of NBC

The Carmichael Show wraps its first season Wednesday. In just three weeks on the air, the NBC comedy already has made a big impression, drawing acclaim from critics and impressive ratings.

"The worst thing I could do a lot of times is check Twitter or read the comments on an article on The Hollywood Reporter, so I try to avoid those, but I'm just surprised and excited by the overwhelming amount of love that people show for the show," series co-creator, executive producer and star Jerrod Carmichael tells THR.

That success is thanks in no small part to the show's brave storytelling, which has led to episodes about police brutality and gender identity. The show shows no signs of slowing down, tackling religion and guns in the season's final two episodes.

"The goal is really to connect with people. A lot of times, us within the industry, we can put this bubble around ourselves and create what a show is supposed to look like and sound like, and we're seeing so much content," says Carmichael. "The best compliment is, 'I finally found something to watch with my family,' or, 'This is how I really feel, and I can't believe they're showing this on television.' "

Ahead of the season finale, Carmichael talks with THR about his hopes for a second season, ignoring notes calls, his sit-down with NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke and advice from Norman Lear.

The show's ratings have been strong, but you've also gotten a lot of favorable reactions to the individual episodes and their content. Is there one piece of feedback or one episode in particular that stands out for you in terms of feedback?

The ratings are a reflection of people connecting with the show, so that's the good part about the ratings, not just for the sake of numbers. The feedback is what means the most to me. The protest episode and the gender episode have gotten really strong responses. These are both topics that I think were really important to talk about, and we tried to handle it with as much integrity as possible, and people have been responding with that sentiment, so that's what means the world. As an artist, the most important thing and the most special thing is when your intention shines through on the work. That means a lot.

The season finale is titled "Guns," so I have to ask about the last two episodes. What can you say about them?

What's most important to me is to have the discussion and to make sure we show as even of an argument as possible. With guns, it's obviously a thing that people are talking about, and it's a thing that I've dealt with in my personal life. I think everyone has, in some form or another, dealt with guns in their personal life. It's more about ownership, it's about the necessity, it's about the need, it's the hypothetical of, what would you do, why do you need it and exploring that. It's a fun one. It's a bit bigger. It's a bit more explosive of an episode.

As you're writing about these topics, was there one you got the most notes about or that the network or studio was the most concerned about?

This is a thing I shouldn't say in an interview: I'm not in on those notes calls, and I don't read them because why? … It becomes clutter, and it starts cluttering art, and I don’t believe in it. And that's not to say that NBC and 20th [Century Fox Television] haven’t had great ideas because they really have. … They have genuinely contributed to the show and had some great ideas, but a lot of times, notes calls are just a sheet of fear and a sheet of concerns, and that has no place in the writers' room. My assistant types them up, and it's very kind of her. I told her she can stop, but she insists.

To me, things are more of an issue of standards than anything. Are you telling me that we legally can't say this? Or are you telling me that you're concerned about a thing? Because those are two completely different things, and I only respect one of those things. If you're telling me that standards is saying, "We will not air this on our network," than that's one thing. We obviously have to work around that.

But there haven’t been any issues that have come from ignoring those notes?

The great thing about this long process with NBC is that we're like an old married couple at this point. I'm hesitant to say it, but they also know that I'm not. ... No one at NBC reading that I don't care about notes calls is going to be surprised. But we have had conversations. Jen Salke and I were talking about gender because it was an important issue to her. She is very involved with the Big Brother program, and we had a great conversation about maintaining the integrity of both the Big Brother program and maintaining the integrity of the transgender issue and making sure that we're doing it justice, making sure that the terminology is correct and making sure that we're having an honest conversation. That was a great conversation with Jen that I had personally, and I listened to that.

These are issues that are still evolving and changing constantly. Are these things that you would be open to revisiting if you do get a second season?

Yes, absolutely. One of the next episodes is about prayer, and we explore the topic, but there's so much to explore. It's a thing that I'm excited to revisit. It's like when we revisit topics and subjects in our everyday lives; I'm excited to revisit a lot of these things because I think we just scratched the surface on a lot of these things. Especially prayer — I would like to go deeper with that and really explore religious differences and explore us coexisting with them and what that says about a person and those types of things. I think the transgender issue — there's still so much to explore. People are still going through social acceptance. These issues are constantly evolving, and I think the more informed we get and the more informed the characters become, the more evolved the conversations will be, so I think the conversations should evolve as they do in our real lives. I try not to just have people change their opinions unrealistically in the show and have this unrealistic thing where it's just like, "And now I feel this other way," … because then we can't explore the topic more because you've already put a pin in it, and that’s not how our minds work. There is so much to explore there, and I wanted all the characters to learn things and have experiences that shape how their thought process works.

What conversations, if any, have you had about a season two and an episode order? Where are you at with that part of the process?

We haven’t had that conversation yet. I've heard television is a fickle industry, so I'm happy with the episodes we did. It would be fun to do a season two. I have ideas for a season two. I haven’t had a formal conversation with the network about it. I'd love to have a conversation with [NBC Entertainment chairman] Bob Greenblatt about it, about what that would look like and even where it fits into the bigger picture of NBC comedy. It’s a lot to talk about.

Shortly before the show's original premiere, NBC announced its plan to air the episodes back-to-back. Did that give you any pause, or do you think that helped the show?

While I think the pilot showed handsome promise, I don’t think it was our strongest episode, by any means. But I think the protest episode was one that really showed what I thought the potential of the show was, so I was excited that that got to air on premiere night, that essentially, you got a pilot, and you didn’t have to wait a week for the public to see the potential of the show. I think it was a blessing.

A lot of these things may seem like negatives, like even airing in the summer — I was happy about that because I don’t want to be in the fall on Friday night. I don’t think it shows faith in comedy. That's more a disservice than airing in doubles, so I was happier on Wednesdays in the summer than I would have been in fall on Fridays.

How concerned would you be, then, if NBC moved you to next fall or another more high-profile time slot? How much of an adjustment would that be?

The show has a lot of growing to do, and I'm excited to try and help it grow more. Beginning to find our footing in the summer and have it premiere the way that it did, I think we can feel a bit more confident going into a fall spot now because it's already developed.

Talking about finding your footing, what do you think worked in season one? What do you think needs work, should you get a second season?

I believe in our intentions as writers and our beliefs and our chemistry as a cast. I think we genuinely enjoy being around each other, which is great. As we learn more about each other, and as we spend more time, like any relationship, I think it can grow. Sometimes you see potential in something, and you're so excited to move forward because you know what it can be. It's just little things. Hopefully, the network can see that there is a desire for people to have these types of real conversations. Not that I hold back at all, but hopefully we can go even deeper and get even more honest. Even being proud of the episodes we've done, I'm still so excited about the potential.

Norman Lear tweeted a picture of the two of you on premiere day. Did you ask for advice? What was your conversation with him like?

He seems to genuinely enjoy this show, which is crazy because he's such an inspiration. His name is synonymous with great television, so it's just exciting. I think he asked as many questions as I asked him. It was one of those surreal moments where you're standing outside of the building after the meeting, and you're like, "Did that just happen?"

Was there one piece of advice or something else that he told you that stands out?

He trusts his instincts, and we talked about that, about just trusting your instinct and being true to the character. That's what I really hold onto because — he didn't say this in the meeting but I've heard him say it before — when he was writing Archie Bunker, he didn't care whether it was likable or unlikable. It's how Archie felt. That type of truth is so important and so rare, especially in most multicam sitcoms and sitcoms in general. I try to ignore the likability versus the unlikability.

The Carmichael Show airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on NBC. Check out an exclusive sneak peek from the season finale, "Guns," below.

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