The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
In case you missed it, Bel-Air is back for its sophomore season! Last season our production team chatted about our favorite characters, plot lines of the season and shared predictions for season 2. In this week’s session, I’m joined by veteran TV Writer and Director Carla Banks-Waddles, the current Showrunner and Executive Producer on Bel-Air for Peacock. Carla is the Black woman behind over a dozen television shows, including That’s So Raven, Half & Half, Hit The Floor, and Good Girls.
During our conversation we chatted about her long-standing career in film and television, navigating the industry as a Black woman, and she dishes on Season 2 of Bel-Air.
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Our Production Team
Executive Producers: Dennison Bradford & Maya Cole Howard
Producers: Fredia Lucas, Ellice Ellis & Cindy Okereke
Session 296: All Things Bel-Air with TV Veteran Carla Banks-Waddles
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 296 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into our conversation after a word from our sponsors.
Dr. Joy: Before I tell you about our episode for today, I have to first share a praise report because the podcast just won our very first NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Lifestyle Self-Help Podcast. A huge thank you to everyone who took a minute to vote and for all of your continued support. We are so grateful.
In case you didn't know, Bel-Air is back for its sophomore season. We missed the chemistry between Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil, seeing Hilary make boss moves and Will's quintessential Philly swagger. Last season, our production team chatted about our favorite characters, plot lines of the season and share predictions for Season Two. In this week's episode, I'm joined by veteran TV writer and director Carla Banks-Waddles, the current showrunner and executive producer on Bel-Air for Peacock. Carla is the black woman behind over a dozen television shows, including That’s So Raven, Half & Half, Hit The Floor, and Good Girls. During our conversation, we chatted about her long-standing career in film and television, navigating the industry as a black woman, and she dishes on Season Two of Bel-Air. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, be sure to share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us in the Sister Circle to talk more in depth about the episode. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Here's our conversation.
Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us today, Carla.
Carla: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Joy: It is such an honor. Your most recent work, of course, is being the showrunner and executive producer for Bel-Air, but your IMDb credits are very long and date back to the early 2000s. So can you talk a little bit about maybe some early productions that you feel like were foundational to your career?
Carla: I started out in so many, many years ago, it seems like, over 20 years ago, in a half-our multi camera comedy, which is what I thought I wanted to do, and realized 17 years in that maybe it's time to make the pivot to do something different for many reasons. But starting out in half-hour comedy space, I was fortunate and blessed enough to work for a woman named Yvette Lee Bowser who had created Living Single when she was like 27, and coming out to LA, I knew who she was. She was the one person who I had followed and I really got the opportunity in grad school to intern for her when she had created a show called For Your Love. I would say one of the best experiences that really set me off on, very foundational working for this black woman who had been in the business for so long. And just sort of followed her career and just being able to watch her in action and see her on set and see her in the writers’ room and working for her for two years as an intern. And then she was ultimately the one who gave me my first job, my first staff job coming out of grad school. We still have a relationship today, she's still a mentor and a friend, I call her up still even now, just to ask her questions and pick her brain. Looking back at that experience, definitely a foundational experience for me.
Dr. Joy: Carla, as I'm listening to you talk, it feels like it is a very familiar story in that there's a very small sisterhood of black women who have been in these kinds of spaces and then so many others get opportunities because others put them on. So I've heard similar stories about Mara Brock Akil, Gina Prince-Bythewood, it feels like there really is a very small sisterhood of you all. Do you all kind of stay connected or is there some kind of group chat that you all talk about different things that come up?
Carla: Definitely, because we need it and it’s, like you said, a very small community. And so there's the established group of powerhouses, people like Yvette Lee Bowser, who was definitely very purposeful about reaching back, specifically young black women and bringing us up to the ranks. So I feel like even her mentees, we all have a bond and we still stay in touch and definitely give her flowers for how she has started us all off. And so I feel like there's different sets of women that definitely still keep in touch with each other, all of us having started out as staff writers together, as interns together, as PAs together Who have struggled up the ranks and are now show runners or executive producers. We definitely call each other, once a week, once a month. What's going on? I've got this issue, how are you handling this? And just being a means of support for each other just because we navigate this space differently and go through very similar challenges. It's meant the world to me to be able to have that network of sisterhood.
Dr. Joy: You mentioned something that I want to hear a little bit more about. You said you started on a multi camera comedy. Can you say a little bit about what that is? And like how comedies are different than something that is maybe more dramatic, like the Bel-Air reimagining?
Carla: Yes, so half-hour multi camera comedy, just even from a process standpoint, it was so much different. The writing of a half-hour script, for example, even the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or my show Half & Half or the comedies that we sort of all grew up on, are multi camera sitcoms, meaning you have a live audience and your production week is very different. Your writers’ room looks very different. Even the process of writing a half-hour multi camera script is just a different muscle, where you were taught to write three jokes a page and it's just a certain rhythm that you have to hit when you're writing a multi camera comedy. And the process of writing them, and coming into the writers’ room, and what we call punch up of jokes that aren't really landing as we go through rehearsals throughout the week. It's the constant rewriting process to make it funny or better until you get to that live studio audience. And even then, in front of the audience, oh, a joke didn't land as much as you thought it was gonna land. So the writers huddle together and come up with a new joke. So so much of that format was all about the joke.
And I think transitioning to one hour gives you definitely the space to sort of remove that burden of the joke per page, and really just gives you a chance to delve a little more deeply into the characters and the stories and the backstories. And it just feels a little more natural to how we live and how we talk. It took a while to make that transition and there is definitely, in terms of process, no live audience, and very little rewriting when it comes to the actual shooting. Like the script is what it is, you don't have to rely on jokes not landing or working and having to pivot so much when you're at that production stage.
Dr. Joy: Got it. So with a comedy, you might write a script one way, run it in front of a live audience, and it doesn't land and then you redo it.
Carla: Oh, yes, yes, definitely. And I think sometimes when you're writing, you'd get tired of the same jokes. You know, there's so many stages to doing what we do, like from the pitch to the outline to the script. And so by the time you have seen this piece of material for this episode over, maybe the course of four weeks, you get tired of the joke and so you just want to change it for the sake of changing it. But also something that you thought was funny, maybe the audience didn't really laugh at, so you definitely either have to have another set of jokes in reserve. And it's kind of fun to try things different on the fly and I think it's fun for the audience to see, oh, they just changed it up. But definitely that comedy muscle of “we need a joke here, we needed it in two minutes,” because the audience is waiting, and if you don't have a reserve of jokes ready…
Dr. Joy: Oh, you're doing it on the fly, like in the moment?
Carla: Yes, because it could be that unexpected joke of, oh, wow, they didn't laugh at that. Like that's been solid all week, but they didn't laugh at that. And then you have your executive producer huddling the writers “get away from craft service and stop eating cheese, we need a joke here.” This didn't work. And then it really is everybody huddling on set while the audience is waiting, just throwing out jokes - maybe this. And then you have your executive producer who says “that's it, that's it, let's try that,” and then you're flying in a new joke to the actor. And they're running it again and then hopefully the audience responds to that. So definitely a high-pressure situation.
Dr. Joy: You were a part of what I feel like was a really golden time in black television during the time of UPN with Half & Half and all those other incredible shows. Can you talk a little bit about what that experience was like?
Carla: Yes, it was just a great time in television. I think UPN was a network that was prioritizing, not just black programming, but black creators, so it just became the home for black audiences. We had Moesha, we had The Parkers, Half & Half, One on One, Girlfriends, and it was just a time where we were seeing massive rating success when it came to black audiences. And so Half & Half premiered, I think in 2002 and just being on the lot at that time, there were so many other just black creatives walking around, and just people to talk to. It just seemed like a boom, where everybody was out there creating, black-led scripted shows just was so popular with audiences. So yeah, it's a time that I have not seen recreated since, but definitely a really fun time to be starting in this business, in my case around then. And just having so much black talent and creativity around you.
Dr. Joy: That's interesting. You mentioned that you don't feel like you've seen a time since, and it does feel like every week, it's like there's some new changes, new something happening in terms of streaming. Can you talk a little bit about your perspective of how television has changed, like maybe since then until now?
Carla: I think it's changed in many ways for the good, and then maybe it's the not so great. I think in terms of the good, it's changed in that there's just more outlets for more content to be out there. I think when I first started just in network television, it was definitely a cycle of, you're out of work for maybe a year until the next network cycle came around. And then you would go on your meetings for different staffs for shows. Either new shows that were being picked up, or shows that were returning for another season, there was an opportunity to staff every May. But if you did not get staffed, you were pretty much out of work for a year and your agent would say, you know what, just keep writing, write some new material, we'll get you out there, next year will be your year. And you just sort of had to survive during those lean times. And I think now there's just more outlets, where it is more of a year-round cycle of employment and staffing. So there's not that fear of if I don't get a job this May, I've got to save up and eat ramen noodles till the next May because there won't be another opportunity coming my way. So I do think, in many ways, the TV industry with the streaming and sort of this peak TV that we're seeing, has given us more opportunities as writers to just have more staffing opportunities and have more of our voices and our shows out there.
I think the downside is that it's not a model for training and mentoring kind of the next generation of writers, and just preparing them really to run their own shows. Ideally, when you're on a staff, you should be advancing in responsibility as you gain more experience and learn about all the aspects of creating television. And I think in this streaming world, we're definitely seeing shorter runs of eight to 10, to 12 episodes, where in the past network years, we were 22, 23 full seasons. And just those shorter spans of television are not really allowing for the training. Because in streaming, generally, all episodes of the show are typically written ahead of production. And usually the showrunner or another top level executive producer would be the last one standing to go through the shooting and the post process. And all the writers’ room has moved on to other jobs and so unfortunately, they're not really growing within the system and really learning, as they move through the ranks, all the different aspects of creating a television show. Being on set, talking to actors, dealing with directors, and budgets - they're just not getting that fuller experience in this streaming world. So I think it's a tradeoff of a little positive, but also a little negative.
Dr. Joy: Got it. And is writing for a show that’s picked up by a streaming service different than like something that would be on Hallmark TV, like on your regular NBC channel?
Carla: I just think it depends, but my past experience has been you stay with the show as the writer. So you start off with just the writers’ room, you're coming up with all the ideas, and you write the scripts, and then at some point production starts and the cast gets brought in, the crew, the cameras roll, and you're still on as a writer. You stay there from the beginning. If you wrote episode five, then suddenly you're now going to be on set for Episode Five and fully producing your episode until you get to the end. And so I think now the difference is that by the time they get to Episode Five, you've moved on to something else and that you're maybe not there to fully produce your episodes. Somebody else will be on set covering for you while you've moved on. And so that was definitely my experience in network television, early on versus sort of streaming now, the difference that I'm seeing.
Dr. Joy: Got it. So you've worn a lot of hats across all of the projects that you have worked on. Can you tell us a little bit about the difference between a showrunner and an EP, and what is your favorite role of the ones you've had?
Carla: Oh, goodness. It's been many years of all the things. I think the difference in being the showrunner and EP is just wearing all the hats. It's not just being inside the writers’ room, which is the heartbeat of the show. It's dealing with all the aspects now. The editing, the budget, the casting. It's more of a juggling act. Way more responsibility, longer hours, trying to carve two days out of one day, and just making a lot more decisions. But the writers’ room is still for me the heartbeat of the show and the engine of the show and so even though I have to wear all these other hats now, it's really being purposeful about giving that time to the writers’ room and making sure that the stories are solid. And everything else branches from there, but it's just a lot of different priorities now.
Dr. Joy: Because there are so many hats that you have to wear, I can imagine that at some point, some of that takes a toll on your mental health, right? Can you talk a little bit about maybe some of the mental health challenges that you've experienced in your roles throughout the years and how you are taking care of your mental health?
Carla: I'm still trying to find a way, Dr. Joy. It is difficult. I think sleep more than anything has been the most detrimental to my mental health because there just isn't enough of it and I haven't figured out a way to sort of work it into the routine. Because when I say carving two days out of one, it's like there's the full day where you're with people – you’re in the writers’ room, you're talking to whoever it is, the editor and other producers, doing whatever you need to do when everybody else is awake. And then for me, it's coming home at the end of the day, hopefully saying hello to your family, eating dinner, but then another day starts for me at around eight o'clock at night, when it's just the quiet and the phone isn't ringing. And that's really the writing time, trying to find another five hours in the day, or six hours, depending on what you have to do or how much writing needs to take place. And so I do think the sleep part is hard. And I've realized that maybe I only need three hours of sleep.
I've heard people who function regularly on three or four hours of sleep. It's not ideal, but somehow I was able to sort of do it over the course of a season. But it's tough. It's tough, and I think it's a big part of the job. Even the sisterhood that I was talking about earlier, like how do you do it? How do you cope? How do you find ways to take care of yourself and have self-care? And so one of the other showrunners that I talk to, she said you have to give yourself grace and just realize that if a ball drops, it's not going to be the end of the world. And sometimes you just have to let balls drop for your own self-care and just allow yourself the room to do that, and know that the world is not going to end because you do. And so I've been trying to do that a little more. It's difficult. It is difficult.
Dr. Joy: You mentioned, too, it sounds like things have changed in terms of historically only getting shows in May and not knowing if you're gonna have something for another year. It sounds like that has changed but I would imagine that has been difficult too. Like the anxiety, it sounds like you alluded to of, okay, am I gonna not be working for this next year? Can you say a little bit about how you've worked to manage that?
Carla: That was definitely tough, especially because I'm a Virgo and our personalities, we’re very structured and we'd like to know what's next. And I think already stepping into a creative job where so much of the employment is just gig to gig and you don't really know, it's the unknown. It's releasing yourself to the unknown of not really knowing what's next. Or definitely that fear of what if there is no next? I definitely, early on in this industry, had the fear of this is the last job, this is it for me. And having a mother always calling you like, what about real estate? You could go into real estate. Just the worry of what if nothing else comes. I'm thankful that something else has always come, but it definitely is that fear and anxiety of, once this is over, there might not be another job or there might not be one for quite some time. And then how do you save your money in the meantime? And you still have, in many cases, a family, children to take care of, bills that are due. Definitely that anxiety back there that what am I going to do if, can take a toll.
Dr. Joy: Right. More from my conversation with Carla after the break.
Dr. Joy: Like we mentioned before, your newest (or at least newest to us) project is Bel-Air, which is the reimagining of the classic The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with this project and what it has been like for you taking on a reimagining of a classic?
Carla: I was co-executive producer last season, Season One, and so just seeing the response to Season One has been amazing. And stepping into the showrunner position Season Two has been a whole other level. I grew up watching this Banks family and this iconic family, so to sort of step in this role in a very different way and tell stories for this same family, but also a very different family as we have reimagined them, really feels just like a joy and a dream to know that we've got two seasons. Twenty episodes to really delve into who they are in this new space.We have such a monster cast, this ensemble of actors, and just a joy to be able to write for them and just give them this playground to tell these stories and these black centric stories that I haven't always had the benefit of being able to tell. It just feels great. It feels great.
Dr. Joy: And did you like apply for the job to work on this? Were you approached? Can you say anything about that?
Carla: I'm at Universal Television, so I’m under what they call an overall deal there. And so it just means like you're an in-house writer, you're in the family of Universal Television. So I was actually shooting a pilot for Universal Television, I was in New York, and meanwhile Bel-Air was getting up and running. You never know when you shoot a pilot, what's going to happen, and so in that waiting process of trying to figure out, are they going to pick it up to series? What are they going to do? Meanwhile, I'm an in-house writer at Universal Television and they said, Bel-Air could use your help, could you come over here? And I was like, of course. And so that's how I came to the show first season, just to be a writer and co-EP on staff as they were developing these characters, and figuring out this new family and the creative direction of the show for a season. So that's how I first started.
Dr. Joy: You talked about the cast, which I agree is phenomenal. But there are definitely some shifts of the cast than we saw in the original. Carlton's character feels like is a little more sinister, Jeffrey's character is almost like a Bond-ish 007 kind of spin. Can you talk a little bit about the casting process and how you all decided to cast the people that we see now?
Carla: When I came on first season, they were very secretive. They had cast most of the main family and they were very secretive because they didn't want it to get out who was who. So as we slowly found out in the writers’ room about who was cast and then we had that first table read and we had heard about Jabari who played Will, and finding that piece of casting was so key. And we had our first table read on Zoom with all of them and that was really my first time seeing their faces and hearing them read the material. There was a nervousness about this, because everybody on Twitter, as the trailer was coming out, people were like, okay, this might be something. But there was a lot of skepticism over why are they messing with this show? This is a show that we all grew up and loved. It was a perfect beginning, middle and ending to that show when it was on, and so why are they sort of opening the door to this new thing? And so people were, I think rightfully nervous about what was to come. As well as the writers’ room. In knowing that we were taking some risks and some big swings with characters like Carlton. So I think there was a little nervousness on behalf of all of us. But for the casting going into that table read and seeing who that cast was, and hearing them for the first time, it was the first time that I really saw like, okay, we're on to something magical here. It's just a matter of time before the audience finally sees what we're doing, and I think they'll be on board. And I was delightfully surprised to see that they were. It was very different, but the audience gave us sort of a leeway to try something new.
Dr. Joy: I agree with you. In watching the sentiment online, it definitely feels like people were kind of holding their breath like, okay, we're gonna give this a chance, let's see what they do with it. And then people were very, very surprised, I think, that it was just such an outstanding first season of a reimagining of a show so many of us loved.
Carla: Yes, yes. To their credit, I think once people realized, okay, this is not the old Fresh Prince that I knew and loved, this is a new one that I can sort of get on board with. The spirit of these characters living on in this new reimagining, but they are different characters, and so I think people were able to sort of open their minds. And we definitely tried to create a balance of paying homage to the original but also making sure that this show found it's new lane, it's new voice, that it could sort of stand on its own as its own show.
Dr. Joy: I do want to stay with casting for a bit because I think, like you mentioned, the Carlton character, Olly is the actor who I think does such a great job that we love to hate him in this role. But it does feel like his character has had the most backlash because it is so different than who we saw Carlton in the classic Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. How have you handled the backlash? And how are you helping the cast, specifically Olly, to handle the backlash? Like did you all expect this?
Carla: Yes, because that Carlton character was such a big diversion from the original in many ways that people have the strongest reaction on Twitter, to him and to Olly. When you talk about changes in the TV industry, social media has been such a big change and that you get immediate feedback to the episode and to the characters. And so seeing, not just Olly’s character, but just all of them, being an actor today it's got to be difficult because you are exposed to so much free thought out there about anything that people will say. And so I was nervous for all of our cast and I felt very protective of them because I do love them. When people came for them on social media, I sent a lot of things. You can report people on Twitter for being hateful - I sent a lot of “this person needs to be removed, this comment needs to be removed,” just because I felt protective of the cast. But I would say Olly himself handles it so well and has thrived on it. Even this season, you would hear him say on set like, oh, the audiences are gonna hate this. But he said it in a way that he loves it too because he knows, you know, it's a character. And sort of being able to step into this very interesting, nuanced, but polarizing character, he loves it and he's just the perfect person for that.
But I'm sure some days get difficult when you have so much scrutiny and commentary on, not just your character, but just personally about you. That people feel the need to come for you and attack you, that doesn't feel fair. But they seem to all be taking it in stride, and just really loving the success that they've had. But also realizing that he is a character that was so instrumental Season One. That people came back because they did love to hate him, and they ultimately were on board with the slow burn of that relationship between Carlton and Will but also the slow burn of Carlton in realizing the journey that he was gonna go on full season. So I do think it started very strongly early on where we hate this person - what have they done to Carlton? And slowly evolving to, you know, we get Carlton, we understand where he's coming from, we know that kind of kid. To ultimately getting to a place where he was embracing of Will’s character and had come on this full journey to get to the end, by the time we got to Episode 10.
Dr. Joy: You bring up a really good point in that your engagement, it sounds like, with Bel-Air is very different than like on a Half & Half, when there was not social media, at least in the way it exists today. Can you talk a little bit about how some of that immediate feedback enters the writing room? Does that impact the decision making? Can you say a little bit about that?
Carla: I think it definitely does. In terms of Season One, we were done with all the episodes before we even dropped the pilot. So there was nothing more that could be done but sit back and just sort of listen to what people thought, and read on Twitter and all the different pieces that were out there. When we started the room in Season Two, we definitely had those conversations about what people have responded to, what people had not responded to. There was definitely a vision for Season Two because we were picked up for two seasons. So a lot of the conversations in Season One were about, oh, we'll save that for Season Two. Or we know we want to go there in Season Two.
So even though there was places that we wanted to go in Season Two, there was definitely room left for the things people love. Like Jazz and Hilary. People love them together and that was sort of surprising. That it was a small storyline that people really commented and loved them together. And definitely a departure from the original, where Hilary wanted no part to Jazz. That people were like, oh, we're here for this new Hilary and Jazz relationship. And even, like you said, with Jeffrey. To many people, he was a man of mystery and few words in Season One, but he made such a huge impact, his presence and his character, where people just wanted to know more about Jeffrey, Jeffrey. So we definitely took that into consideration as well as we were going into Season Two. Giving the fans a little bit of what they want, hopefully, based on all the talk out there.
Dr. Joy: Besides the fans’ love for what we saw between Hilary and Jazz, was there anything else that you all were surprised by the viewers’ reactions to from Season One?
Carla: Let's see. Was there anything else? I was surprised how important the Aunt Viv-Uncle Phil relationship was to people. Because you think this is a show centered around Will and his character, and this young man coming from West Philly into Bel-Air, and what that journey is, and how the whole family surrounds him with that support to make sure that he's going to be okay in this new space. And he is the central character of the show, but then we also found some time to kind of go outside of that relationship and tell these stories for Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil and I was really pleasantly surprised that people really loved that relationship and were rooting for that relationship. And I think just showing black love on television and in this family, that people really love that. And the conversations that they were able to have, the radical honesty conversation, which was my episode last season. That people were really loving that you could have a husband and wife fighting about something and that felt real, but ultimately being able to talk about it in a healthy way. And so That was pleasantly surprising that people glommed on to that relationship.
Dr. Joy: I think because of what we do here at Therapy for Black Girls, one of the storylines we loved and talked about the most was the way we saw Aunt Viv’s character kind of bloom throughout the Season One. Her struggling with family and work and like, okay, do I take this next step in my career? As well as the relationship between her and her daughters, so the mother-daughter dynamic and is she kind of projecting some of her own missed opportunities onto Hilary and what Hilary wanted to do for her future?
Carla: Yes, yes, I'm glad you say that. Yes, because that mother-daughter relationship Season One was also something that people talked about. And just those generational differences between how Aunt Viv was raised, and the traditional way that you find employment and go about work, and you go to college, all these things. And Hilary was taking a very different path, and a mother who was sort of not supportive of that, that caused a lot of friction between them Season One, that just felt very real from a parenting perspective of wanting the best for your children and not really understanding the way they're going about their success looks very different than how you're going about yours. But also being a source of inspiration and a little bit of I wish I had a little bit of that in me, that courage to sort of follow your dreams unapologetically and not really care about what other people think. So there was that generational gap, but also that generational inspiration, I think, that we found with Aunt Viv and Hilary. And in Season Two, more of them trying to find their way as they follow common paths, each trying to be bosses in their own respective worlds, that they can rely on each other and give each other advice a little more in Season Two.
Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Carla after the break.
Dr. Joy: You all dealt with some pretty weighty topics, which I think is interesting for any kind of a show to tackle, but also what was traditionally a comedy now reimagined as a dramatic series. So you all tackled things like police brutality, sexuality, estranged family members, like you really ran the gamut. Can you talk about what that process is like in the writers’ room, for how to make those topics feel very real, but how you also are encouraging the writers and the actors to take care of themselves with those kinds of topics?
Carla: So many different themes that were brought out Season One that we want to continue in Season Two, and difficult ones, you know, because it is a drama, and trying to find that balance of the dramatic with the lighthearted moments. But when we went there emotionally, like we really went to places that I think resonated with people and felt real with people. And in the writers’ room, we talk a lot a bit about our own experiences personally, and how we infuse those in the storylines. So that helps me that it feels authentic. Like one person, if two of us are going through it, then other people are going through it and it means it's worthy of taking the time to talk about. And I do think so many times in television, there's a tendency to want to wrap things up in a neat little bow and say, all right, we're done with that storyline, now let's move on to the next episode.
And I know for me Season Two, wanting to make sure that some of those very emotional themes and deeper themes that we started in Season One were not just tied up in a bow and we don't just wash our hands of them and walk away. And I think that mental health story and that story of addiction for Carlton, definitely an important one. And we could have definitely had him in Season Two just say, you know what, I'm going to be a new kid. Will’s here, I'm happier, I'm in a better place, off I go to a different storyline. But we really wanted to not let that go. And I think with all of our stories that touch on deeper themes of trauma, that we want to make sure we don't let them go. That we don't let them go and that we sit with the uncomfortability a little longer, what I call tatting [0:34:02] out over the season so that it just feels real, that you don't just get over things in an episode. These are things that are going to be affecting our characters for many episodes to come - in little ways, in different ways - and just making sure that we just sort of sit with the experiences a little more.
Dr. Joy: Are there any mental health resources offered to the writers and the cast as a part of writing on the show or being part of the show?
Carla: Yes, we definitely have a consulting psychiatrist who provides a lot of guidance for us as writers. He reads the scripts, he answers questions, I can text him, I can email him, just to make sure we're getting it right in the writers’ room or just to talk about future storylines. Like we want to do this, we want to talk about this, does this sound accurate? Does this feel like an authentic journey? And so he has definitely been of support to us and to the actors. The studio's made it a point to let the cast and the crew know that we all have access to a number of mental health organizations that can provide guidance and support as needed. Because it's obviously a very important storyline for us to be telling on the show, and talking about mental health. Mental health with this black family, mental health in black boys, and just wanting to make sure that we're getting it right and providing the right resources as well.
Dr. Joy: Carla, can you say more about that process? So that is something I've always been personally interested in. And we have a lot of therapists, of course, who will be tuning into this conversation who want to know, how do I get a role like that? How do I become a consulting therapist? Can you say a little bit about how you might find a position like this? Or what should you be doing to try to get in front of a writers’ room?
Carla: He came through the studio, through the studio system, that he was knowing the topics that we want to handle - in this case, mental health. But if it was any other topic, if we were dealing with sexual assault, if we were dealing with other difficult subject matters, where we want to make sure we're getting it right, it comes from the studio where they can provide these resources. So, as showrunners, we can say, hey, we're talking about this issue in this season, or we're talking about this issue this episode, do you have any resources that we can tap into as a consultant? Because they want to get it right too, and they want to make sure that their shows are serviced. So it really came, for me, through the studio and them wanting to get it right and me saying, yes, please. I would love to talk to them and have that kind of access to make sure that we're telling the stories in an authentic way.
Dr. Joy: And I think that's a huge kudos to you. Because as a mental health professional, I think as watchers of shows, we can tell when people have not been consulted. There are clear misses when there has not been a mental health professional as a part of the storyline, which I think is important when you're dealing with these kinds of shows, especially in marginalized communities. When we're talking about something like substance abuse and estrangement in a family, I think it's important. It’s a responsibility, I think, of shows, to make sure they're getting that right.
Carla: Yes, I definitely agree. Because people like yourselves are watching. It's an opportunity to get a storyline out there that is so important, and that we don't see a lot. And so I definitely feel that responsibility just to get it right. And we don't always get it right. And when we do, we hear about it, and I'm glad to get that feedback because it's just important, the nuances of it all, and that there should be a responsibility in how we're telling that story.
Dr. Joy: You've already given us a little bit, but what more can we expect for Season Two? Without giving any spoilers, how are you all planning to build on some of the major themes we saw in Season One?
Carla: Season One ended in such a traumatic way, just speaking for Will's character for a second. It ended in such a traumatic way for him where he was this kid who came into this family and trusted this family and ended the season in a way where trust was broken with this family. Specifically, his trust with Uncle Phil, who had been a father figure for him all season. And then Will’s very traumatic confrontation with his own father, Lou, at the end of the season. And so in Season Two, definitely in terms of, back to sitting in an emotional space that doesn't go away easily, that's not going to be an easy thing for Will to deal with in Season Two. And just seeing how he comes back into the Banks household, because he loves them, and they are his family. But how does he come back a little bit of a different young man? In that he has his guard up a little more, he's not so willing to blindly trust like he did last season, and that he is trying to make some decisions to be a little more independent and create his own narrative for his own life without letting the adults so easily guide him. But he is only 16. So that is a recipe, you know, maybe not for good all the time. But to really just sort of explore this young man who is still (even though he can't articulate it) still feeling that father figure void in his life, and sort of seeing who he leans into Season Two. Maybe people that he should not be because of the experience that he had last season.
And I think for Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv, knowing that people really loved hearing their stories, wanting to give them some storylines this season. And really all of the characters having an arc this season. Again, with Will at the center, but sort of looking at all 10 episodes as a bit of like a movie, where we have a beginning, middle and end for all the characters having an arc. And so we'll see Uncle Phil, last season, he ran for DA and it was all about his run for DA, but being able to come back this season knowing he dropped out of the race, and look at what Uncle Phil was doing before he ran for DA. He had this black law firm that he established, that has become one of the top black law firms in the country. And sort of seeing him go back to that and explore that world with him. And Aunt Viv stepping into this new role in her art fellowship and some of the challenges that that's bringing. And Hilary stepping in as a boss in her new influencer house with Ivy (Karrueche Tran) coming back, and seeing the two of them try to start this house together and not always being on the same page.
And of course, Carlton trying to develop and evolve that relationship with Will a little bit more and that bromance that people were longing for in Season One that did not really exist. Trying to get there in baby steps with Will and Carlton this season, where there is an attempt to have a friendship and be on the same page and be each other's dynamic duo a little bit more. But of course, they are two different young men so that will even come with their challenges. And seeing Carlton sort of step into this new role with Will as his sidekick. And it's a little bit of be careful what you wish for with Will, because he does sort of walk through this world with a little more charisma and people respond to him with a little more ease in all different aspects, where Carlton has a little more trouble adapting, specifically with the Black Student Union. And Will dragging him along into conversations and moments that feel a little uncomfortable for Carlton. Because Will is trying to be more of a friend. So those are sort of the broad strokes of a little bit of Season Two.
Dr. Joy: Very excited, we cannot wait for everyone else to check it out and have great conversations around this. So you have such an exhaustive resume and have worked on so many different kinds of productions. Is there a difference between working in a black-centered, black focused kind of a show, kind of like Bel-Air, versus production in the writers’ room for someplace like Good Girls? Are there main differences that you've noticed in those two different types?
Carla: Yeah, and I would say it depends on the show. There's been some shows that aren't all black cast, they have a tendency to shy away from race, or cultural truths and just sort of do what I say just the colorblind storytelling. You would not know that there is a black character on the show, because they're just friends with everybody. There's not a tendency to really want to address some of those nuances or to really even tackle race because it feels like, oh, that feels sad or that sounds like something that we don't really want to shine a light on. I do think Good Girls was a unique experience because we had lots of conversations and our showrunner, Jenna Bans, wanted to be intentional. Knowing we have three good girls, and one of them was black. That to be able to, when it made sense, to really make those stories still authentic.
And I know we had a black cop on that show who was on to them. And there was an episode where we really got to have him tell our black good girl (played by Retta) that there's three of you, but you look a little different, and it's gonna be different for you. Like the system is going to handle you a little different. And so that felt like a good conversation for us to be able to have. Or they have a black son. There was an episode where we talked about him having ADD and our little black boys being so quickly diagnosed with ADD because they move differently in the classroom, they don't sit still. And so being able to have some of those conversations that felt like black conversations on that show felt good. But I do think I've been in situations where, oh, we don't really want to touch on the fact that we have a black cast member. We're just going to make everybody feel Kumbaya and not really stop down to tell those nuances sometimes.
Dr. Joy: You mentioned that the cast or a lot of the cast had already been chosen for Bel-Air before you got involved. But is there a recipe? Like if we're wanting to make a hit show, is there a recipe for casting that people should be aware of? What are you looking for in really putting together a knockout cast?
Carla: I mean, we have so many new characters this Season Two in terms of cast, and I think what I look for is somebody who brings something that you did not see. To the audition, to the role. I think when we're writing scripts, you have sort of a preconceived notion of what this person looks like, how they talk, how they move. And when somebody comes in for a role, and they show you something different that wasn't on the page, that makes you sort of see the character in a different way, or just bring something to that character, there's like a spark and you kind of know it when you see it. When you get like this is that person that can play that full range of emotions as well, from the funny to the deep, more emotion-filled scenes. You just sort of know it when you see it, but somebody who will hopefully take the words and take the material and elevate it, is the hope.
Dr. Joy: Outside of Bel-Air, what are you watching on TV? What are your current favorite shows and some of your favorite shows of all time?
Carla: Oh goodness, what am I watching? When there's time to watch TV, it's interesting because the things that I gravitate to are not the things that I write. But I've been watching Abbott Elementary, getting back to like my comedy roots. I've been watching Reasonable Doubt created by another fabulous black female, Raamla Mohamed, and Truth be Told with Maisha Closson. And then totally separate from any kind of black family drama, I really enjoy Ozark. There's something about that being a family in these intense situations, just trying to survive, and with kids, that I really like. Money Heist was another Spanish drama on Netflix that I really like, just really strong characters. Those are the things that come to mind at the moment. Oh, Run the World and Lovecraft Country. I watched Lovecraft Country again for a second time. I really like, and Run the World.
Dr. Joy: That’s a great list to get people started if you haven't watched any of those. So if we can, we’d like to play a little behind the actors with you about some of the cast of Bel-Air. I'm going to ask you a couple of questions and you can tell me which cast member responds to this. Which actor is most likely to have their lines memorized first.
Carla: Olly, definitely Olly. You can give him a whole page of monologue and he will come in off book ready to go.
Dr. Joy: Which actor has excellent ad libs that often end up in the show?
Carla: Jabari, definitely Jabari. He's very funny and he brings a lot to the character of Will that’s like, yep, that's in the show. He's very funny. He's very funny, and a lot of his ad libs end up on air.
Dr. Joy: Which actor’s personal style do we see shine through in the show?
Carla: Personal style. I would say Jordan, who plays Jazz has a lot of personal style. His personality on set is infectious. And I think Cassie who plays Aunt Viv definitely has a lot of style that comes through. She's hilarious and I feel like she used to be a standup comic (believe it or not) that we could do a little bit more with Aunt Viv in letting that personal style shine through because she's personally just hilarious.
Dr. Joy: Related to that, who cracks the most jokes on set?
Carla: Cassie. I think, Cassie. When the cameras stop, she's the one either singing or making up a song or cracking the whole crew up. And then you call action and she's very serious again. You would not know that seconds before we called action, she was just telling all the jokes.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, that's surprising to know she has a history as a standup comedian because she is such a great serious actor.
Carla: Yes, she's so silly and so much fun. She's like the best friend you wish you had.
Dr. Joy: Who has an incredible talent that we haven't yet seen on the show?
Carla: Wow, that we haven't yet seen. We have such a great cast. I think that there's probably more to be seen from our dad, Uncle Phil, Adrian Holmes. This season, you will see him in a whole different level of acting for Uncle Phil. He brings so much to the show, and I think Season One we just touched on the things in his storyline. Season Two, you will definitely see a different Uncle Phil. Adrian Holmes is just a phenomenal actor and he gets to go a lot deeper into his storylines and his character in Season Two. So I would say probably Adrian.
Dr. Joy: And based on some of your other answers, I think I may know the answer to this but you might surprise me. Which character is the most unlike the actor that portrays them, and in what ways are they really different?
Carla: Olly. Because he does come across as this very dark, troubled young man on the show. And behind the scenes, he's definitely just so lovable, and happy and fun, and just shows up ready to go every day. But he does play this very dark, serious, heavy, menacing villain. And he's just not that person at all, at all. So I don't know if that's who you were thinking.
Dr. Joy: I was thinking, Cassie, since you talked about her being such a comedian… This has been so delightful, Carla, thank you so much for sharing all of this incredible information with us. We cannot wait to tune into Season Two. So tell our community, where can we stay connected to you? Do you have a website or social media handles you'd like to share?
Carla: Oh, yes. My website is BabyCakesProductionsInc.com And then I'm on Instagram and Twitter @CMWaddles.
Dr. Joy: Perfect. I feel like I would be remiss if I didn't ask you, is there anything else that we should keep our eyes out from you, in your production company? Any new projects that are on the horizon?
Carla: Well, we'll see what happens after… you know, Bel-Air is going to premiere February 23. And then I have a few shows in development that I'll pivot to, now that Bel-Air is off and running. So we'll see. Look for more from Baby Cakes Productions. But I'm hopeful that some good stuff will be coming soon.
Dr. Joy: I'm so glad Carla was able to join us today to chat all about her work and Season Two of Bel-Air. To learn more about her or to stay caught up on all of her projects, visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session296. And don't forget to text two of your girls right now to tell them to check out the episode. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory.
And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.