“All American,” a drama inspired by the life of Beverly Hills High School alumnus Spencer Paysinger, who played seven seasons in the NFL, premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday evening on The CW.
“All American” stems from Paysinger knowing in 2015 his football career would be ending relatively soon — it concluded with a three-game stint with the Carolina Panthers in 2017 — and said he “started to think about what passion could arise after football, and I just naturally gravitated towards writing.”
That led to a conversation with a friend who was an entertainment executive, Dane Morck, and “that conversation led to an email, which led to a phone call, which led to a meeting, which led to finding” April Blair, who wrote the series pilot which airs Wednesday evening, Paysinger said.
“It’s crazy to see what an idea that I had a few years ago turned into,” said Paysinger, a consulting producer on the show.
“All American” stars Taye Diggs as Beverly High School football coach Billy Baker and Daniel Ezra as high school football standout Spencer James.
The CW President Mark Pedowitz described “All American” as a cross between “Friday Night Lights” (the Texas high school football drama that ran on NBC from 2006-11) and the 2003-07 Fox teen drama “The O.C.”
“All American” is on The CW’s fall schedule because there was “nothing quite like that out there in terms of the world we live in,” Pedowitz told City News Service.
“All American” begins to veer from Paysinger’s life story in its opening act when Baker attends a South Crenshaw High game, approaches James afterward, introduces himself and says, “I need you to play for me.”
In reality, Paysinger was the sixth member of his family to attend Beverly Hills High School through a since-abolished program allowing students who lived outside Beverly Hills to attend the school in an attempt to increase its diversity, following his father, three uncles and older brother.
“All American” does not tell the day-by-day story of Paysinger’s life, instead using it as “an inspiration and a jumping off point,” Blair said.
Paysinger’s “story and Spencer’s story are very different, but the heart of it and some of the … most important, life-changing moments are very much inspired by Spencer’s real life,” Blair said at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour.
The shooting in the opening scene was inspired by a shooting in a park near Paysinger’s parents’ home in South Los Angeles, said Blair, who had been an executive producer on the 2013-17 CW historical romantic drama “Reign,” a co-executive producer on the 2011-15 CW comedy-drama “Hart of Dixie,” a consulting producer on the AMC action-adventure drama “Into The Badlands” and the MTV slasher anthology series “Scream.”
Blair calls “All American,” “a very relatable family show” and “a sort of tale of two cities.”
“Unlike in `The O.C.’ where he left and never went back to Chino, we go back every week” to South Los Angeles, where James lived before moving to Beverly Hills to live with Baker and his family, Blair said.
“We give a lot of time and energy telling stories in the community he comes from as well as the one he’s entered.”
Future episodes will deal with James adjusting to Beverly Hills and “struggling to maintain balance” with his family, racial issues including “driving while black,” and “fun, kind of wish-fulfillment stuff because it’s a CW show, but also imbue it with stories that matter about race and socioeconomic disparity as much as we can,” Blair said.
“The show seems it’s starting about these two different worlds, but … over the course of the series very quickly what you see is how much more alike we are than different.”
“All American” is not “trying to do an exact replica” of Beverly Hills High School. Both the series’ South Crenshaw and Beverly high schools are fictional, Blair said.
One difference between the real and fictional schools is that sushi is not sold in the school cafeteria, a Beverly Hills High School student confirmed.
While Beverly Hills High School students do not have laptop computers with them in science classes like portrayed in the series, they are scheduled to have them later this school year, principal Mark Mead said.
The school is not called Beverly Hills High School for legal reasons, Blair said. School scenes are filmed at El Segundo High School.
Blair said she would have loved to filmed the series at Beverly Hills High School but could not because of construction there.
Beverly Hills Unified School District Superintendent Michael Bregy said a previous commitment will keep him from watching “All American” when it airs, but he has set his video recorder for it.
“I look forward to watching the premiere when I get home,” Bregy said. “Beverly Hills Unified School District is a unique and special place so I sincerely hope our high school and city are represented in a true and authentic way.”
Blair said she and the series writing staff “have tried to represent the good and bad of both sides.”
“All families love and hurt the same way, whether they’re rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight,” Blair said.
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