‘Grand Crew’ showrunner interview: How to find the best crew

Phil Augusta Jackson talks to IndieWire about making network sitcoms in the streaming world and the friends who inspired the hit NBC series.

TV can give viewers false expectations of adult friendship. How many people who watched “Friends,” “Living Single” or “New Girl” had sex nearly as often as the characters? But Phil Augusta Jackson, creator of NBC’s “Grand Crew,” swears it’s based on his own group of friends and the wine bar they hung out at … with a few liberties.

“When you have a hangout show like this, we’re going to show the moments where they can spend time together,” Jackson told IndieWire via Zoom. “They’re always at the bar, multiple times in an episode, and it doesn’t necessarily feel like real life as far as the actual frequency. It can start to feel like they just like to live in this place… but that’s what you have to do for storytelling.”

In the show, accompanied by Noah (Echo Kellum), Nikki (Nicole Byer), Anthony (Aaron Jennings), Fay (Grasie Mercedes), Wyatt (Justin Cunningham) and Sherm (Carl Tart), they talk about therapy and possibly becoming parents. unemployment, love, breakups and drinking a lot of wine. (“Wine and” is in the name of every episode.)

“I don’t think it’s unrealistic,” Jackson said. “(My friends) talk about everything. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had a solid core as I got to a place where I could grow up to be who he is and really know myself.”

Ahead of the Season 2 finale on April 28, Jackson spoke to IndieWire about the challenges of modern comedy, what makes it good if they want it/don’t want it, and his long-term vision for the show.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

IndieWire: How do you build a classic TV group of friends from the ground up?

Jackson: I wanted to convey the feeling, energy and dynamic with my group of friends that I have in real life – we hang out in this wine bar. So, at a basic level, the cliché “write what you know” seems accurate in this circumstance. Also, I work as hard as I can to get to that level and I pay attention when I’ve been in rooms like ‘Key & Peele’, ‘Survivor’s Remorse’, ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ and ‘Insecure’ and I’ve picked the best. about each work from a story-breaking perspective, from a joke-writing perspective, and I put it in the presentation of my own taste.

Over the course of two seasons, is there anything that maybe you wish you had done better in the beginning that you’re really proud of and think you did well?

(In the first season) you have to do a lot of work to get everyone to know who these characters are and what makes them tick. I think we did a really good job with that. If I had to do Monday-Morning-Quarter Season 1 with only 10 episodes—because these are classic sitcoms, you get 20 episodes to have a throwaway element that gives texture to these characters—I’d try to figure out a way. to set the table faster, if I could, and how to get everyone on board with exactly how these characters behave and what makes them do that. I don’t know how to do that necessarily, but once you understand who these characters are and you feel like you’re part of the crew when you watch it, I think that’s when things start to pick up.

Three men in tuxedos, one wearing a hat, standing at a cocktail table;  still from it "Grand Crew"

Justin Cunningham, Echo Kellum and Carl Tart in ‘Grand Crew’

Elizabeth Morris/NBC

Sitcoms often have to establish and juggle a lot of characters, that’s just part of the form – but these days we have sitcoms with longer episodes (streaming). Do you feel limited by timing? Do you feel like you’re racing against time with short episodes and only 10?

Totally. If I had 50 minutes, I would have that much time. After half an hour… you’re actually watching 21 minutes of the show. Sometimes when you have a bigger order, I think you get more unquote throwaway episodes where the episodes don’t necessarily serve any kind of arc – those are the episodes that can stand out because you can just do something silly. But 10 is also a great number. There’s just a different set of things to look out for since you have a little more limited real estate.

I think it’s a possibility. I got to cut my teeth on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” for four seasons, about 80 episodes of the show, and I was on set the whole time. We were really in the trenches to get this show off the ground, so I think I was well equipped for it. The stories have to be dynamic, they have to make sense, they have to contribute to a larger narrative for each character in the season, but I think it’s a fun challenge. That’s the network, and that’s what makes it exciting when it works well.

Tell me about how you made most of your friends single. There’s even a line in season 2 like, “Hey, we’re all in our 30s and it’s weird that none of us have kids?”

I did it because this is my real life. If you’re in a bigger city, like New York or Los Angeles, it’s okay to have a bit of stunted growth that delays certain aspects of your life. In my circle of friends, I have a couple of close friends who are married, some with children, some without. But many of the core group members are single and still figuring it out, and dating in Los Angeles is still a very strange place to this day. The stories there seem to be very interesting in our real-life conversations, and so it’s a fun way to channel that energy into the show.

Speaking of dating, we have to talk about Anthony and Fay. This romance is so interesting because they weren’t hinted at in the beginning and this season they had their chance and they went for it.

I love rom-coms. I think it’s a genre that people take for granted, and from the beginning of the show, I just wanted to subvert expectations. In the pilot, you’d think Noah and Fay were going to be on the show – like it or not – they actually led people to believe that for most of episode 102, but then they found out it was Fay. friends with Nikki. From the beginning of the series, I wanted Anthony and Fay to be the will/won’t they.

In terms of how we broke it, 107 was the core. There’s a scene that we cut at the end of 107 where Anthony and Fay are texting, and you could see her smiling and him smiling while they’re texting – but it was a little too harsh and we wanted to hide. a little bit more, so by the time we got to the Season 1 finale, it was like, “Oh, this makes sense.”

As for Season 2, dating isn’t always clean. It’s not always like, “Oh, I know I like you right away, and we’re going to try, and if it doesn’t work, we’re going to stop.” It gets complicated and it’s a very important part of timing, especially when you hit your 30s and you’re trying to figure out and really cement other aspects of your life. So we ended up taking them in the direction we took them.

What is your long-term vision for the characters as they move away from your real life?

Season 1 was all about new beginnings. They had this place where they usually got together (but) things happened with Noah, and then they found this wine bar – an unexpected thing and a new unexpected place. There were new beginnings for everyone, romantically, professionally, etc.

In Season 2, we looked at it as the thirst for more, when you get to a place where you figure out who you want in your life and what you want in your life, and you go for it. This does not always work in your favor. In the long run, the goal of the show would be for everyone to reach a level of self-realization where they are truly happy and proud. I make a lot of decisions (in the past) because I felt what I needed to do to be successful, but I never asked myself if I was truly happy. When I hit my 30s, I started asking myself what makes me happy outside of the things I feel I should be doing.

So I think ultimate happiness in a world where it will never be achieved 100% of the time is the goal for everyone on the team. In that way, it’s a coming of age, so it’s a long-term vision. What should everyone do? Who do they have to be to reach that level of happiness where you say, “I’m really excited about where my life is going?”

“Grand Crew” is now streaming on Peacock.

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