The creator of the Atom.com comedy Johnny B. Homeless will premiere his new drama Lenox Avenue this fall, which has already received critical praise, and features an impressive cast, including Michael K. Williams of The Wire. Nostalgic for the TV programming of the late 80s and early 90s, Thompson has set out to create series with heart, and he talked to us about it.
Fast Company: Johnny B. Homeless and Lenox Avenue have received accolades from critics and the festival circuit. What's your secret?
Al Thompson: TV has taken some steps back with reality television. Those shows are guilty pleasures for a lot of people, but it doesn't compare to the content I grew up with, what I used to beg my parents to let me stay up late to watch. So that's a void I wanted to fill: stories that are rich in characters, and even have a great theme song, like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I really link back to my roots.
FC: So how does Lenox Avenue fill that void?
AT: Lenox Avenue is, out of all my projects, one of the most special to me, because I was born and raised in Harlem. I got to witness the neighborhood's transition from crack and drug usage back in the day, to now, a very gentrified Harlem, with a large European community, a large Japanese community. I wanted to tell the story of three friends, guys who are functioning and growing in the Obama administration. These are the characters you don't get to see on TV. These are guys that have good credit, maybe own a condo or two, and they're growing. Guys on TV are always just being made fun of, but we cry on the inside too. Ladies just don't get to see that. And that's what I wanted to see, love and relationships.
FC: You have an impressive cast. What was it like pulling them together?
AT: It was easy as calling one of my cousins. One of the things that really pushed me in the direction of the Web is, my friends and I have always had conversations about projects we wish we could do together. Instead of talking about it, we did it, and this gave us control.
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A version of this article appeared in the September 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.