“Rel,” a comedy starring comedian Lil Rel Howery as a man from Chicago’s West Side rebuilding his life after his wife had an affair with his barber and whose son and daughter moved to Cleveland with her, premieres at 5 p.m. Sunday on Fox.
“If you had asked me a couple weeks before our scheduling meeting I’m not sure `Rel’ would have made it,” Fox Television Group Chairman/CEO Gary Newman told City News Service.
“But when the delivery came in, we loved it, our fellow executives loved it, the testing was strong and we saw an opportunity for it. Rel was so winning and funny. There’s nothing on the air quite like it and we’re taking a shot on it.”
Newman described “Rel” as “a family show even though it’s an unconventional family show.”
The cast also consists of Jessica “Jess Hilarious” Moore as the best friend of Howery’s character, Jordan L. Jones as his recently out-of-jail, excitable and overly encouraging younger brother Nat and Sinbad as Rel and Nat’s recently widowed father who finds both his sons deep disappointments.
Executive producer Jerrod Carmichael said he had long talked with Howery “about what Rel’s stand up would look like” as a multi-camera television comedy.
“Throughout `Carmichael,’ we always would … have conversations that became very real when `Carmichael’ ended,” said Carmichael, the star and creator of the 2015-17 NBC comedy “The Carmichael Show,” whose cast included Howery.
To Howery, “sitcoms are … the easiest way to translate your material into a television show, because you still have the same feel.”
“With a live studio audience, it actually still feels like I’m doing a comedy show with the audience feel,” Howery said last month at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour.
The premise of the series “came together pretty organically,” said Kevin Barnett, one of “Rel’s” co-creators and executive producers.
“We pretty much figured out the entire plot of the pilot,” in an approximately one-hour cellphone conversation when Barnett was in New York City, he said.
Barnett said he participated in another key meeting by cellphone from the parking lot of a TGI Fridays in Maryland.
It is “very important” to Howery to “make sure Chicago is shown in an authentic way,” Barnett said.
Barnett described the West Side of Chicago as a place with “gangs, violence and lot of crime” but “also a lot of culture, lot of good food, a lot of talented comedians and musicians. It’s a fascinating place.”
Howery grew up on Chicago’s West Side. He began performing stand-up comedy at the Lion’s Den club on Chicago’s East Side. He made his television debut in January 2007 on the NBC competition series “Last Comic Standing.”
Howery was a cast member and executive producer on the 2014-15 truTV sketch comedy series “Friends of the People,” whose executive producers included Barnett and Josh Rabinowitz, another co-creator and executive producer of “Rel.”
Howery won the 2017 best comedic performance MTV Movie & TV Award for his portrayal of Transportation Security Administration agent Rod Williams in the satire horror film “Get Out.” He also starred in the 2018 basketball comedy “Uncle Drew.”
“He’s a breakout star,” Newman said.
Fox is making the rare move of airing the “Rel” pilot simultaneously across the nation in hopes viewers will keep watching the network following its NFL coverage on the first Sunday of the season and sample the series.
“Rel” will regularly run at 9:30 p.m. Sundays. The pilot will be rerun Sept. 23, with the second original episode airing Sept. 30.
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