‘All American’ boss on the tragic death and collective grief that will fuel the remainder of Season 5

Eater alert! This post contains details from Season 5, Episode 11 of The CW All Americans.

CW’s All Americans Monday ended with an emotional twist when head coach Billy Baker (played by Taye Diggs) died trying to save a student when a bus carrying him and the South Crenshaw High School football team crashed on their way back from a scouting combine.

In the final moments of the episode, his son Jordan (Michael Evans Behling), who was at the crash site, tells his family that Billy is not alive.

Billy’s death will likely come as a shock to viewers, as the series has so far spared its main cast, even though many of them had previously faced death. But showrunner Nkechi Okoro told Carol Deadline that Diggs’ decision to leave the show came organically before Season 5 was planned.

“At the beginning and end of every season, I have a conversation with the cast about their character’s journey, and for Tai it was in that conversation that we started talking about, ‘Is Billy’s journey over on the show? And if so, how will the exit be?’ To me, there was only one exit for Billy when he left, because the character wouldn’t leave after fighting so hard for his family,” he said.

Carroll spoke to Deadline about building Season 5 around Diggs’ departure, and gave insight into how the remaining episodes will dive deeper into their shared grief, especially for those grieving the loss, especially her family (both biological and chosen).

Deadline: I was pretty shocked to hear this death coming. Did you have anything planned when you opened the writers’ room for Season 5?

Nekechi Okoro Carroll: When I took over as showrunner early in Season 1, because I wasn’t involved with the pilot, I sat down with each actor to talk to them about the show and why they wanted to do the show, how they felt about their roles. , and how I envisioned the show’s long-term journey. We are so lucky to have Taye Diggs for any time. One thing we always want to talk about [in those conversations] It was not known how long his run would last, but whenever it was time to end, it would be a mutual decision. It had to be something that felt right to us both for the creative direction of the show and for him as an actor. It’s funny, because even when we had that conversation, I was thinking in my head, ‘How are we going to do this biologically? What if we don’t agree?’ At the beginning and end of each season, I have a conversation with the cast about their character’s journey, and for Tai it’s in that conversation that we start talking about, ‘Is Billy’s journey over on the show? And if so, how will the exit be?’ To me, there was only one exit for Billy when he left, because the character would never leave after fighting so hard for his family. He’s not going to leave his wife and kids to take a job in Florida. So I kind of set the tone, if we think it’s the right time, then that’s how it’s going to happen. He was shocked by the beauty of the departure and the heroism of the departure and what it meant for Billy’s legacy. He was quiet for a moment, and I said, ‘Oh my God, did I lose him with this pitch?’ Then I realized she was silent because she was emotional about it. He got very excited and we started talking about when would be the right time to implement something like that. I knew going into Season 5 what we were going to do. Everything we lined up for Season 5 knew that by the middle of the season, they would lose Billy. It was very thought out in terms of what storyline we were going to create, so that her passing at that point would really affect our cast and allow them to really explore a new chapter in their lives with that loss in a different way. That just doesn’t seem arbitrary.

DEADLINE: After you had that conversation with Tay, how did you let the cast know what was coming and what was their reaction?

Carol: All the cast members, God bless them, because I swear they couldn’t keep a secret to save their lives. As soon as Tay and I realized that it was right and that we wanted it to happen — and after I pitched it to the network and the studio and they signed off on it — I sat down with each cast member and I talked about what Season 5 was going to be. Walked them through the journey, I told them. I told them I was pitching their episode and how it happened, and without fail, every single one of them cried. The first time it happened I was like ‘Whoa, I thought I was the only one who would cry doing this.’ Every single cast member, when they realized how it was going to happen and when it was going to happen, it was such an organic, visceral experience of almost primal sadness and anticipation of what was happening. So they all really dug into each episode knowing it was coming and it brought an extra layer to their work in those scenes with Billy, knowing what was going to happen 11 episodes later. They all really did their best, and they did it while maintaining all this privacy, which is not easy to do in this town.

DEADLINE: I want to talk more about the specifics of how he died. How did you decide that he would go back to the bus to save Jabari, of all people?

Carol: A lot of thought went into the summer before we even started the season. I felt strongly that if it was any of our main cast, or if it was her kids — Jordan, Olivia or Spencer — of course, she would get back on the bus for them, and I don’t think anyone would question it. . But I wanted to go deeper than that. This is a man whose players are truly his second set of children. Does it get more complicated if he goes back for one of those kids? Laura can’t be mad if she goes back for one of their children. But to his chagrin, she might go crazy if he goes back for her feeling like just another player to him. Was it worth the sacrifice? That’s something he has to wrestle with. It certainly makes sense to remember who Billy was and what he stood for and how he loved. He would go back for anyone. So that’s why we decided on Jabari that Billy would go back. This is a character that our audience knows and loves and roots for, and he’s on the path to change and do great things in his life. How is it justified that his life will end so soon? It felt right.

DEADLINE: Hearing that voicemail from Billy just moments before finding out Spencer died was really heartbreaking, especially knowing that they haven’t fully mended their relationship. How is Spencer going to handle it? his sorrowWhich would have been overwhelming even if he had a good relationship with Billy?

Carol: What we perceive as Spencer’s grief is only going to be the tip of the iceberg. It turns out that losing Billy the way he lost her and the state their relationship was in when he lost her, and the fact that she rejected the call as opposed to missing it, is going to be a gateway to a much, much deeper storyline with Spencer. It takes her a while to come to terms with what’s happening to her and what losing Billy truly means to her, and what Billy’s legacy means from Spencer’s perspective as she rises from the ashes to try to pick herself back up.

DEADLINE: We know that the Whirlwinds are always going through hard times for each other, but now that they’re all going through this collective, shared grieving process, how are they going to lift each other up?

Carol: Obviously Olivia and Jordan are his children and Laura is his wife, and I think everyone agrees that they come first. They lost their father, she lost her husband. Whatever Billy means to us, they come first. We will definitely see that attitude from the friend group. But it’s a lot easier to do when you’re going home at night and either trying to bury your sorrows, or cry over your sorrows, or drink through your sorrows. However, the fact that different people are handling their grief, makes trying to put it aside while you help other people through them a real struggle. I actually think that’s the beauty of this team. I always say the family you’re born into and you’re truly blessed with it, and then the family you choose and that’s doubly blessed. These children are the chosen family. So I think we’ll see the true strength of Whirlpool and how strong those bonds are, how everyone deals with losing Billy as they go through the next few episodes, regardless of the pressure and weight that’s placed on them. Grief is not linear, and it is different for many people. We’re going to give everybody their moment with their way of processing, and it becomes a story for an episode so we can really test the boundaries of that friend group and how they help each other through it.

DEADLINE: As you were writing your way through each character’s grief, how did you decide what would be a realistic way for them to handle something like that?

Carol: Truly, the characters have decided. We all know Spencer very well. We spent five seasons with him. Of all the options for how different people might process grief, Spencer pointed out what was the most realistic authentic version for her. The same thing happened to Olivia and Jordan. The journey they’ve taken and how much they’ve grown over the five seasons [helped determine] Which looks realistic. It’s based on the honesty and truth from all of our grief experiences, but what the grief experience meant for the characters, the characters and the storylines we told in the season dictated for us. It was discussed in the writer’s room as we were getting into each person’s story, and we dictated the history and character authenticity of what grief was like for them.

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