Ever since Hannibal Buress publicly slammed Bill Cosby as a rapist in his stand-up routine back in 2014, dozens of women have come forth or re-emerged alleging they were drugged and sexually assaulted by the actor over the decades. As Cosby now faces criminal charges in Pennsylvania and a possible 10 years behind bars as well as other civil cases across the nation, another stand-up comedian, Jerrod Carmichael, is bringing the outrage, history, conflicts and contradictions of the situation back to the old home of The Cosby Show.
In “Fallen Heroes,” the second episode of the second season of NBC’s The Carmichael Show, the series co-creator and star struggles with wanting to attend a live performance of Cosby’s with the full knowledge of what more than 50 women have claimed the once-beloved actor did to them. At times distinctly uncomfortable and revealing of hypocrisies on all sides, as well as also very funny, the March 13 show revels in the strengths that the hot-button material TCS revealed in its almost-under-the-radar six-episode first season run of last summer.
With Season 2 of The Carmichael Show set to debut with a preview on March 9 before moving to its regular Sunday slot on March 13 with double episodes, Carmichael took some time off production on the series co-produced by Universal TV and 20th Century Fox TV to talk about his Cosby show, literally and figuratively. The Neighbors actor and TCS EP also touched on O.J. Simpson, playing to his audience’s intelligence, the influence of All in the Family and when and how the topic of Donald Trump might make an appearance in an upcoming show.
DEADLINE: “Fallen Heroes” is very ambitious episode, but it’s very ambiguous in some ways about handling the accusations of drugging and sexual assault against Cosby. What was your intention is pulling open this can of worms?
CARMICHAEL: My intention was to do an episode of television that was just honest to the conversations we were having, and I think that Bill Cosby will be able to watch this episode, I think the accusers will be able to watch the episode, and I think that they will both think that it’s fair.
DEADLINE: But is that fair unto itself, with Cosby fighting this criminal case happening in Pennsylvania over a 2004 sexually assault, a case that could see him behind bars for a decade, and the other cases of defamation and more all around the country, do you feel like people will think that you’re giving him a bit of a pass?
CARMICHAEL: I think that people will say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ve had conversations like this.’ My concern is, removed from what’s going on with Bill Cosby, is only to make sure that the conversation on the show reflects the real-life conversations that we’ve had with our families, with our friends on the show. So I think that people will think that it’s honest. So, no, I don’t think viewers will think we’re giving him a pass.
Thinking about the episode, I think what’s most important is where it fits in the grand scheme of television, and I think it’s event television. I think it’s television that reflects culture, and is very much so on the pulse of culture and very much so … and I don’t even really like using this word because it’s over used, but the zeitgeist of it all.
DEADLINE: Still, that line ‘‘Damn shame what he did to those women, though,’’ which comes right near the end of the March 13 episode, does infer a point of view from you on the allegations…
CARMICHAEL: Yeah, it infers a point of view. I think what I was most concerned about the intention showing, and the intention was not to be dismissive of the victims. That’s what I was cautious of; I want to make sure that the intention shows because it’s never to be dismissive, it’s always to explore, and it’s always to have some unique point of view.
DEADLINE: Certainly Cosby and especially The Cosby Show in the ’80s and what that meant not just to have an African-American-led show at No. 1 but to African-Americans as a community, do you think there is a divide in the way these allegations and cases are assessed? With all the renewed attention on the O.J. Simpson trial from FX’s American Crime Story series, we’re reminded that the way many whites and many blacks saw that case was very different.
CARMICHAEL: I think what O.J. represents, I think what Cosby represents, I think all of it is just unique things that we haven’t seen in America before, like removed from race, like removed from it. Let’s step back from race for a second. It’s a unique…
DEADLINE: But can we ever step back from race in America?
CARMICHAEL: We can, but here’s the thing. O.J. was unique because we’d never seen someone of his complexion get away with being accused of murder in such a grand scale before. We usually see the opposite in America, and Cosby is unique in that sense, too. But these are unique cases in the same way of Steven Avery’s case is unique. I think being removed from race is important because we haven’t seen these unique situations too often before.
DEADLINE: Another unique situation we haven’t seen before, at least at the height presidential politics is the rise of Donald Trump. Talk about the zeitgeist. Will we see the Donald addressed in Season 2 of The Carmichael Show?
CARMICHAEL: You know, what’s funny is that it’s so much to talk about with Trump and not only the man himself. It’s easy to just make Trump jokes but harder to talk about what it means for America, who he is in reflection of America. I’ve been in conversations with a few people, and it was like ironically what Donald Trump is, he’s an embodiment of America, you know what I mean? You ever watch the cartoon Captain Planet?
DEADLINE: Once in a while years ago…
CARMICHAEL: Remember, how Captain Planet is just all the elements of Earth coming together to create one thing, right? And that’s kind of what … ironically, it’s what Donald Trump is — it’s someone who has less money than he thinks, that is so strong in his opinion, doesn’t care, complete disregard for yours, confidence on borderline arrogance and all these things, that when you combine all of that you kind of make Donald Trump. That Donald Trump kind of is America is the thing, and I think more so than the man itself.
It’s always the mirror. The Cosby episode was putting a mirror up to America. I think if we explore Trump because he’s obviously in conversation, it’s putting a mirror up to America.
DEADLINE: That’s very rare on Big 4 TV nowadays, especially in sitcoms. Most of them are just so bland. Do you see it like that?
CARMICHAEL: Yeah, I think it’s fear. You want to have a hit, and everyone wants their characters to be just likable, and then we box ourselves into this surface level of content. And I think that for me it’s just I only want to make something great. I only care about making something great.
I have an amazing cast, I have amazing writers, I have the best showrunner in the world, and I think that our intention is to make something great and make something that’s honest and make something that’s worthy of discussion. I want it to succeed, obviously. We all do — all of us that work in television, we all do. And the same thing with features. You all want your thing to work, but it only matters if you have a unique perspective. And if you have something that really stays with people, and that’s our intention. That’s honestly all that I think about.
DEADLINE: Well, you pack a lot into this season – you’ve got Bill Cosby, Woody Allen’s past scandals in the second episode and also the fallout of domestic abuse in the third episode. The season premiere references Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Monica Lewinsky; you’ve got Seinfeld references showing up later in the season as well as Michael Richard’s racial slurs; you take a nice swipe at NBC and its Must-See TV of the 1990s – where did all that come from for a 2016 audience?
CARMICHAEL: Listen, I’ve been reading and aware for a long time. So it’s all just things that we’re just aware of. I mean, I had a Linda Tripp reference in a thing, and you would think that an older person in the writers room came up with it. But my mind just goes to reference points because references allows you to convey your message. It’s an immediate thing, you know what I mean? If I use this example, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
DEADLINE: Do you worry that it might go over the head or just not have meaning to the modern network audience?
CARMICHAEL: People will look it up. (Holds up his smartphone.) You have a dictionary, you have an encyclopedia, you have the capability to search and acquire knowledge, in your pocket. My audience is smart, and I will treat them as such, and I refuse to do otherwise. I refuse to do otherwise.
DEADLINE: That’s an unusual stance for a network to take in today’s climate, especially when it comes to comedy, don’t you think?
CARMICHAEL: I think this show highlights what network was and what network can be. I think that just because the pattern may not have reflected that doesn’t mean that it can’t be exactly what this show is.
CARMICHAEL: We get really excited about talking about the fall and the demise of the outlet, but it’s as powerful as it’s ever been. Network TV is as lucrative as it’s ever been, and it’s as effective, and it creates as many conversations as it ever had. Even if half of us are watching it on the Internet, or however we’re receiving it, it’s still created content and it’s still at its core the same thing. So I hope one day that our show is talked about the way that Seinfeld is talked about, the way that Cheers is talked about, the way All in the Family is talked about.
DEADLINE: I know Norman Lear has been a big supporter of yours, so with All in the Family, one of the greatest television shows ever, as an inspiration, what are you trying to with The Carmichael Show that stands on the shoulders of that series?
CARMICHAEL: It’s honesty to people and their lives. When you watch All in the Family, you realize that it’s normal. It flows; it feels like real life. The ebb and flow, the way the conversation goes, the ups and downs, the peaks and valleys are all real life, and that’s what we try to accomplish with The Carmichael Show. Not every time but with certain episodes, I think we really nailed it, and I’m excited to do more.