New drama is based on an NFL player’s experiences
The CW is known principally as a home for superheroes and the supernatural, but sometimes, it goes a different way.
It’s done so with such shows as “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “Dynasty,” and another example is prolific producer Greg Berlanti’s drama “All American.” Premiering Wednesday, Oct. 10, it tells the fact-inspired tale of Spencer James (portrayed by Daniel Ezra), a star athlete who effectively enters a new world when a high-school football coach (Taye Diggs) lures him from Los Angeles’ South Central district and brings him to play in affluent Beverly Hills.
To make the transfer official, Spencer has to move in with the coach and his family, but not everyone is happy about the newcomer’s arrival … including the coach’s son (Michael Evans Behling), who also happens to be the team’s existing quarterback and isn’t eager to see his spot usurped. Navigating a new and privileged social circle also is a challenge for Spencer, whose interest in a classmate (Greta Onieogou) doesn’t please her boyfriend (Cody Christian).
The inspiration for “All American” is NFL veteran Spencer Paysinger, who played for several teams including the New York Giants (with whom he won Super Bowl XLVI), the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets before becoming a free agent. Berlanti reflects, “In this day, surviving two worlds … I remember in high school, it was hard enough just to survive one. And coming out the other side of it with a Super Bowl ring always struck me as a hero’s story, truthfully, yet it had all the heart and soul.”
Paysinger recalls that his switch of schools “was just a stark contrast of everything I had experienced since growing up in South Central, where I definitely had a gang influence. People might think that Beverly Hills shielded me from some problems, but in actuality, it only opened up a whole new can of worms — just dealing with kids with affluence (and) kids with drug problems, and having their parents not be there for weeks on end because they were vacationing or they were doing big business.”
Ironically, “All American” star Ezra is British, and he admits he’s learning football as he goes in making the show: “American football is getting slightly more popular back in the U.K., but it’s still brand-new. I grew up playing basketball and soccer, as you call it. I had to start right from scratch (for the series).”
For Diggs, “All American” addresses much more than the game as it considers the fictionalized Spencer’s different environments. “I think it’s really great,” he says, “how specific the writers are being with putting down everybody’s experience and how similar we all are, no matter where we are from.”