Mikaela Rabizadeh media editor
Knowing that just one misstep can put him out of position to make the tackle, he scans the field and watches the play develop as he waits for the perfect opportunity. This routine is one Spencer Paysinger has mastered as a New York giant, NFL free agent and Superbowl XLVI Champion. However, before he was a linebacker for the Giants, Paysinger was a Norman. In his time at Beverly, Paysinger was the captain of the football team. And now, he awaits a new opportunity, only this time, off-the-field. Paysinger revisits his high school football career in the new CW series inspired by his life, “All American.”
“All American,” produced by April Blair and Greg Berlanti, premieres Wednesday, Oct. 10 on The CW. The TV drama centers around Spencer James, based off Paysinger, a high school student from South Central recruited to play football at Beverly High. The series follows Spencer as he struggles to balance two completely different worlds–torn between turning his back on his home in Crenshaw to pursue his best shot at professional football or staying true to where he came from.
“Before she wrote a word, April and I talked for weeks: different stories, different experiences, thoughts and emotions that went into certain things. Unpacking stuff that I haven’t thought about for 10-15 years,” Paysinger said. “I’ve had memories that have come up that have been in the basement of my mind for forever.”
It was important for both Blair and Paysinger to accurately portray both communities in the series. Throughout Spencer’s back-and-forth between Crenshaw and Beverly Hills, they strived to capture the true spirit within both starkly different neighborhoods, as well as making their hidden similarities transparent.
“We have tried to represent the good and bad of both sides and that all family love and hurt the same. Whether we are rich, poor, white, black, gay, straight, we all feel and love in the same way and have all the same hurts as teenagers or adults. We are always trying to tell more complicated stories about the families and the kids who go there,” Blair said.
Paysinger attributes much of who he is to his experience at Beverly. While some believe Beverly Hills shielded him from problems alive in South Central, such as gun violence and gangs, he sees that Beverly rather “opened a whole new can of worms.” Spencer credits the former multi-cultural program at Beverly as a part of his success.
“Beverly, at such a young age, forced me to communicate with people, collaborate with people from different cultures, different backgrounds, different economic classes. If you’re on one side of the fence and always on one side of the fence, you’re never going to see what the other side looks like,” Paysinger said. “That’s one thing I love about Beverly and what it did for me.”
However, as much as Blair tried to paint the community realistically, some aspects of the show play on the stereotypes about Beverly Hills. Students at Spencer’s new high school in Beverly Hills have amenities that students don’t here at Beverly, such as “Sushi on Friday’s.” Paysinger justifies the discrepancy as a creative liberty for the sake of television drama, however, the underlying problems and values unveiled about Beverly Hills throughout the series makes up for it.
“I think as much as it sort of hones in on some of the stereotypes of [Beverly Hills], it does reveal what goes on behind the curtain, the real stories that happen in the community. Yes, for the most part, we’re not dealing with gun violence, but we are dealing with the effects of affluence, the effects of liberty. It’s not just the “Sushi on Fridays,” Paysinger says. “It’s people that want to live up to their family name, they want to make something for themselves. They come from a wealthy, secure background, but they want to do more than just be another name in their family. They wanna make a legacy for themselves.”
Apart from the suspense and added drama that goes into a television series, Blair believes that underneath it all, the bones of the story relate to everyone in some way. “All American” discusses racial issues along with family, hard work and community issues. Working with Paysinger, she unveiled these realities through his and her own experiences.
“We had a very similar background. I grew up in a trailer and my mom was a waitress and we were on food stamps. I had a dream for myself and it seemed out of reach and Spencer and I kind of share that,” Blair said. “The show seems like it’s starting about two different worlds but its really about, in today’s climate what’s so important, over the course of the series what you see is that we are so much more alike than different.”