a long talk

The Many Chicagos of South Side

The creators of the canceled sitcom always prioritized laughs but never forgot where their show was set.

Salahuddin in South Side. Photo: Adrian S. Burrows Sr./HBO Max
Salahuddin in South Side. Photo: Adrian S. Burrows Sr./HBO Max

South Side was a rare thing: an uncommonly deep, ambitious “hard” comedy series made at a time when hard comedies weren’t being made, especially ones created with so much heart and care. The mission statement was to turn Chicago into The Simpsons’ Springfield, but as my colleague Roxana Hadadi noted in her season-three review, it built on its inspiration in many ways: “Its delightful silliness is tied to its certainty and specificity; this isn’t Springfield’s Anytown, USA, but a place with its own snow-cone economy, its own principled vigilantes, its own party scene, its own sneaker culture, and its own heritage and habits.” The show was canceled after three seasons (one on Comedy Central and two on HBO Max) and leaves a tremendous legacy and void.

In late May, the show’s co-creators Bashir Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle — who, while making South Side, were co-starring in and co-running the Soul Train parody Sherman’s Showcase on IFC — looked back on what made South Side special and what they learned from the experience about creating and collaborating. (Bashir’s brother Sultan is the show’s third co-creator.) Salahuddin and Riddle are currently striking, along with the rest of the Writers Guild of America, and thinking about what they want from their “second generation” of development. Whatever it is, you will see the seeds of South Side in it. “We’ll take everything we learned from South Side and bring it to the next projects,” Salahuddin says. “And the hope is we’ll reach even more folks.”

The Simpsons often comes up when talking about South Side’s influences, and I know it was something you bonded over when you met at Harvard. How did it shape your relationship and what you wanted from your own projects?
Bashir Salahuddin: I was so used to that show being great at that time that it was like the language of not just Diallo and myself but the kids we were around. You really had to go above and beyond to watch that show, and yet we really did. On Sunday nights, there’d be folks in the common rooms of the dorms watching it. For us, it felt like that show was so bingeable because it was so episodic, because every episode was so different and so fun. So as we began to develop our own show, we really wanted to follow that template and do something that felt like that — like every new episode is a fun new adventure.

When you were taking a bigger, more conceptual swing, what were the conversations like on how to pull it off in your shows’ realities?
Diallo Riddle: Every idea’s different. Sometimes you’ll say, “Dude, I had a dream last night about that one character, and this is the direction.” Or I remember one time I came to Bashir and I was like, “We actually messed up! We showed my character on Sherman’s Showcase with glasses in 2017 after we said he suffered a serious eye injury, but what if we came up with a whole backstory on why that one year he’s wearing glasses and not an eye patch?” To a certain extent, we are comic-book nerds and fans of lore. The creation of lore and whole universes for the people who are astutely paying attention to that stuff is one of the great joys in life — to say “Oh no, this is all intentional,” even if it’s not intentional, even if we’re making it up as we go.

B.S.: Diallo, you just nailed one of the best things about writing comedy. Whenever you run into those little sort of speed bumps or logic problems, they’re actually often opportunities to make the show funnier. Rather than look at them as “We’ve got to fix this,” it’s like, “No no no. Let’s go further. Let’s push that idea way past normalcy,” because this is a comedy and because we feel like fans deserve to see really unexpected things.

What is it about your brains that likes lore? Where does it come from?
B.S.: I feel like The Simpsons really did a great job with lore. They would just build backstories on their characters. But I would say specifically where it comes from is that we’re children of the ’80s, man. I feel like we had a much more diverse palette of kids’ shows growing up. We had The Transformers and GoBots, and they did not cannibalize each other — there was room for both of them! We had the Ghostbusters cartoon and the Real Ghostbusters cartoon! And then we had The Muppet Show, which was somehow tied to Sesame Street; there was some weird overlap there with the characters. The work of Steven Spielberg, obviously. The work of Paul Reubens and Pee-wee Herman. So many of the things we grew up loving were so much deeper than they were on the surface.

D.R.: When I first started watching The Muppets, I liked Gonzo, but then when I got to be a little bit older, my favorite character became Lew Zealand. “I throw the fishes and the fishes come back to me!” Such a great deep-cut character. And I felt like South Side had an ability to go into characters, like that revolving door of RTO staff members who are never in more than one episode. In season four, there definitely would have been more Kardell Sr.’s and more Trells. Bishop is the founding member of that club.

Without getting too into our own weeds, we wanted to do a whole episode about the guy who’s selling socks full of fries at the White Sox game. We were like, “Maybe we just do a whole episode, 24 hours in that guy’s life, the way we did 24 hours in the life of Brenda Cole, the same way we did the alderman episode.” To us, part of the fun of the glory days of The Simpsons was that you would watch it and you didn’t know if it was going to be Angus’s episode, or Chief Wiggum’s episode, but it definitely didn’t have to be Lisa’s or Bart’s or Homer’s or Marge’s. So to a certain extent, this was our chance to do live Muppets, to do live Simpsons.

B.S.: I’m so proud of the generosity of our writers’ room, too. Many of our writers are performers, so we encouraged them the same way Jimmy Fallon would encourage us, to write funny stuff for yourself. But then our writers would also write funny stuff that one another would be funny in.

One of my favorite things recently was an article that came out about our show, and the writer was talking about how even the characters who have one line seem to have some kind of weird, rich backstory and get their jokes in. We want everybody to score. I’ve definitely been in environments in both film and TV where you really feel like, The job is to service this person’s comedy. But in our show, it’s like, No, no, no, if you’re onscreen, you need to be funny as hell. Period. So you have all of our writers being like, “How do we make this person funnier?” Then when we shoot it on set, you have another group of people who are like, “Hey, we gotta give this person more. We gotta make her funnier,” because we feel like, for the audience, you want that. You want every single person who comes on that screen to tickle your fancy and make you laugh, so we love that.

The South Side writers’ room. Photo: Courtesy of Diallo Riddle.

D.R.: First off, one of the things that’s resonated with me most about the strike is this idea that every production benefits from having writers on set. We’ve always had some writers on set pitching ideas. Like Bashir was saying earlier, even in the editing process, usually when you’re trying to correct a mistake, you can find new comedy, so the writing never stops until you submit it.

But I also want to say about characters who have one line that serves so much: Both Bashir and I grew up in Black neighborhoods, and I do feel there’s a certain unfiltered nature to pedestrians just weighing in on stuff. And that’s one of the best things about that show.

South Side consistently would get incredible performances from guest actors. Once an episode, I’d be Googling someone I had never seen before and they’d be some established Chicago theater actor. How did you approach these castings?
B.S.: One thing we love about South Side is that we really were collecting an ensemble. Anybody who auditioned for us, we’d always tell them, “Even if you don’t get this part, don’t worry.” The guy who played Trell auditioned for two or three other parts and didn’t get any of them, but eventually we were like, “You know who’s be really funny in this?”

D.R.: Like Felonious Munk, the guy who played “The Laughter” character, tried out for the part of the fur trapper. He tried out for so many parts. It was always a case of us liking him but always trying to think, What is the part he would be perfect for?

B.S.: I loved hearing from actors when they were on our set. They’d be like, “This is a show where people know if you do this show, you’re gonna come away with some tape.” We don’t do throwaway. Even if you have one line, we’re all thinking about you. We all want you to be strong and funny.

D.R.: Even if you get one look, like one of the cops who’s always in the morning staff meetings. There’s one cop, I feel like she’s our go-to person to be like, “Wow, Goodnight is losing his shit here!” She’s all over her Instagram, going, “This is my favorite show, and I do background on every show! This is my favorite show to not have a line on!” But she’s so positive, and we take that stuff seriously because the worst thing you can have is a background who’s either drawing focus or not reacting. It’s sort of like zero or 100, but she’s always right in the pocket, and we appreciate that.

B.S.: People don’t realize how big a theater town Chicago is too. I grew up going to the Goodman, to the Steppenwolf, to all these wonderful plays and shows. Like the guy who played the chef in season two, episode one, is a very well-respected theater actor. Ron Conner, the guy who plays Bluto, he makes us die laughing, but he does super-serious Shakespeare-y, “important” acting. All these folks still love to come to our show. It’s the same reason musicians love to do Sherman’s Showcase: It’s a chance for them to come, show a different side, have some fun. But what I love about them is they still bring the same imprimatur, the same focus to these silly comedy characters that they do when they’re on the Goodman stage.

The show would often cast nonactors from around Chicago. There’s obviously the question of why, but I was curious about how: What infrastructure do you create so nonactors can just be themselves, which is the hardest thing for almost anyone to do?
B.S.: Well, we certainly can’t make somebody be a person who intrigues us. That’s something that, luckily for us, they already bring. There’s a guy who was a bus driver for us — I think it was episode three, season one — and he was making us laugh, so we ended up putting him in the episode and giving him a line as the bus driver.

When we worked on Fallon, so much of that is Jimmy taking actors who are sometimes dramatic actors or musicians who have never acted and putting them in the sketches and setting them up to score. Because if you’re setting them up to fail, nobody wants to do your show, right? We learned a lot from that, so for our show, it’s very similar. We have lots of support, we have lots of people around them, you have the writers around them. But also you have just that confidence where we’re telling them, “You’re here for a reason. You’re not here to be somebody different; you’re here because we like who you are.”

I was at my mom’s house and she told me where to go buy some snow cones. The snow-cone vendor did not recognize me, and he was making me die laughing! Chicago is full of people like that. We have many reputations, but I promise you, people go around and talk to you, and whether or not they know you, they’re gonna treat you like family — sometimes a little bit too much. But at the core of it all is the way we communicate and the way we deal with one another, and to us, to know we were in a city where that was one of the qualities, let’s put them on the show, you know? Let’s have Chicago speak for itself. So when we had our people go to him, like, “Yeah, man, we want to have you on this TV show,” he was like, “What?” But he was able to be himself. Because he got on set, we all go talk to him, we laugh with him, we talk about what’s funny. We’ll even do a little baby improv with people on set. Anything to get them comfortable because if they’re comfortable and happy, then the audience is gonna love it.

D.R.: Through that time at Fallon, our time working with Drake and other people in rap, by the time we’re doing South Side, Chance is coming to us. Vic Mensa is coming to us. And their entourages know our background, so they trust that we’re not here to make them look silly; we’re here to actually make you look like, Oh, that person’s really funny. Hollywood’s gonna come calling with some other stuff to do. It changed a lot over ten years.

In the season-three standout “The Laughter,” a character says, “We’re all in danger here. Who would have ever thought: Chicago, unsafe?” In general, the goal of the show was not to focus on a certain aspect of Chicago that is so focused on in the media, but you’ll have small things like that joke. What were the conversations like around moments that do touch on violence?
B.S.: We don’t ever want to focus on it, period. That being said, we are comedy writers, and we make comedy. If somebody pitches a joke that we laugh at, we’re gonna do it. We’re not gonna sit there and say, “Well, I don’t want to do that joke because I don’t want to offend …” We do what the funniest thing is.

There’s a scene in our pilot where Simon and K finally escape the chains of working at RTO, and I love the metaphor of it: As soon as they’re free, they go outside and they hear some gunshots and then run back in. That was not in the pilot script. We were watching that scene on set and we just said, “You know what? Do one more take where you guys come outside and you hear gunshots and you run back in.” Because in some ways, that not only made us laugh; it was a cultural commentary, but it wasn’t intending to be. It was actually meant to be a commentary about how one of the themes of our show is that nobody can escape their orbit.

That’s actually in some ways the central theme of South Side. You have all these characters with all this potential, but whether it be by their own personality defects or by virtue of the society they’re in, they can never get out of their orbit. And for us, we felt that was a perfect moment to show that even when these guys think they’re getting away from this terrible job, society forces them right back in. But what it looked like was them just responding to some gunfire. Again, our show did a great job at making sure we never looked at violence as funny at all, and we certainly didn’t look at it as a key identifier of the city. But at the same time, if there’s a great joke that relies on that and feels consistent with what that character is, we’re gonna make it. Because if it made us laugh, we like to believe it’s gonna make the audience laugh.

To show Chicago as you knew it, did you have to give it a heightened reality?
B.S.: Before we made South Side, we made a show called Brothers in Atlanta at HBO, which was ordered to series and then was canceled before it aired. If you ever watch that pilot, you’ll see a lot of similarities. South Side is the kind of show Diallo and I were gonna make, and it’s the kind of show we want to make again; it’s just that since we set it in Chicago, we then sort of owed a Chicago-ization of it, which is beautiful. It forced us to sharpen and clarify the characters, the moments, and to make the world more specific. But in terms of the tone of the world, it was always going to be silly. The reason is that we love comedy, and we love hard comedy, and our entire career, even to this day in some of the development we have, you have these executives constantly pushing us to find serious, “grounded, important moments” in these comedies.

D.R.: “Poignant.”

B.S.: No. 1: That’s not comedy. No. 2: That’s you using your degree, wherever you got it from, to try and pretend that somehow that degree helps you figure out what makes audiences tune in.

And lastly: Audiences don’t laugh at clever plot points. They don’t even laugh at cool stories. They laugh at moments. It’s Joey Tribbiani saying “How you doin’?” It’s Jasper saying “That’s a paddlin’.” Those are the things we’d say in the high-school hallways the next day after the shows aired. It wasn’t like, “Ah man, the way they tied in that character from the first act and how he shows up again in the third act but now he feels different!” Nobody talks about that. We do that to write great stories so you’re not thrown off by the logic, but it’s about those moments.

Later in “The Laughter,” Simon confronts a bunch of people who are stealing from rent-to-own stores because they’re doing it for charity, pointing out that they’re corny, they live at home, they need the money. That’s a very complicated way of thinking about money and charity.
B.S.: Absolutely.

It reminded me of something you once talked about, Diallo: Your father is a painter, and he didn’t go into it to make political art, but he was pulling from his reality. And his reality included these conversations. Can you talk about not going after making points but having them sort of seep into what the show was able to say?
D.R.: For my father, what he would say is that it was impossible for him to see the world as it was and not have some social commentary be in there. He would start off with still-life drawings of pears in a bowl, and eventually it was Mandela. It was the things that were on his radar then.

It was the same way for us. Like Bashir was stating, when we first presented this idea, Chicago was definitely a political football, and it was important to us that we show it in that different light. But along the way, Chicago was more than just the political Chicago or even the Black Chicago. To a certain extent, we’re always going to have our — I don’t want to call it our “message” because we don’t come in with a message. We’ve never wanted to be strident, but our worldview affects what we create, like any artist.

I do want to put one thing out there, though, which is that our show, maybe more than others that have existed before, has really placed a premium on this idea of economic education, for the lack of a better term. There have actually been things I’ve learned while working on this show, from Bashir, from Sultan, from our director Michael Blieden. We did a crypto episode long before the bubble really expanded and burst, and we did have to fight some executives along the way who thought it was a little bit too much in the crypto weeds. Simon is so enamored with capitalism, you know what I mean? He’s a character who looks up to Warren Buffett and sees a man selling popcorn outside a theater and thinks, Yeah, man, that guy’s onto something! We always say Simon could have been a multimillionaire, if not a billionaire, if he had been born under different circumstances, into a slightly better public-school education. We do slip our things in there, but our No. 1 mission is always to make people laugh.

B.S.: Yeah, it’s almost like a joy when we find some kind of social-commentary point that we can make that’s funny. Usually it’s dark, but we usually start with, as Diallo says, the story and the episode first and then somebody comes in and makes a joke about something to do with finance and we go, Oh, that really made us laugh, and it’s also really devastating. It goes to the theme, as I said earlier, where these characters really can’t escape their circumstances. But even in not being able to escape their circumstances, it was important for us to show the richness of the world for people who live life perhaps a little bit below where the rest of the country is financially. Often in film and TV, you don’t really see anything of those characters unless it’s The Wire, where everybody’s shooting at everybody and every day is worse than the day before. Or you have The Jeffersons or Good Times — this poverty porn where you have these characters in dire circumstances “but everything’s gonna be all right!” No.

We really wanted to make it from our point of view, from our perspective. So many of these characters are people from my family, from our families. My auntie and uncle were both cops. I have another auntie who worked at the post office. My brother was in the military. These are the jobs you get when you come from these circumstances. So for us, it was putting some of their voices out there. Then when those voices speak authentically, of course they’re gonna have something to say, and our question is, How do we make that funny?

I want to ask about your partnership. How do you work together, and what is it about working together that brings out the best in each of you?
D.R.: In some ways, the shows we’ve been fortunate enough to create so far have resulted from a conversation, and I look forward to future conversations where it’s like, “Yo, I really want to do this thing where Black people are gonna be in space!” or “I really want to do this thing that’s not even about the Black characters; it’s just gonna be these characters I have dreams about! I think it’ll be really fun!”

As we push into what we’ve called our “second generation” of development, we have some more collaborators. We have projects coming forward once the strike’s over with a lot of other people we’ve looked up to for years. I always come back to the Snoop quote where he was like, “I make the music that I wish somebody else would make so I can play it in my car,” and to a large extent, we are making TV shows and features we’d like somebody else to make. But sometimes you look and nobody’s making them — or they’re not doing them well, in our opinion.

B.S.: The other thing about working in film and TV — which is unspoken right now, but it explains why writers are on strike — is that it’s hard. It’s really hard to get stuff over the hump and past all the different filters and get it to the audience. So it does help to have two people, two heads, two points of view pushing forward on stuff we believe in.

D.R.: Bashir and I both come from these big Black families, and just over the weekend, there was this thread going between me and my siblings that had me in tears. As much as I can always bring the things that bring me to tears from being funny with Bashir, to me that’s why I think our collaboration works.

B.S.: Even the guys who play the twins on South Side, they come from the South Side. They went to school with my brother Sultan, to Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, which is already hilarious by itself. They were the ones in the back of the classroom making everyone laugh and then during the holidays I would come home and they’d be at our kitchen table just making us all laugh. It was always like, These guys are so funny and so Chicago. So when it was time to do a show, that’s part of that collaboration: putting out these funny faces and these funny people who made the whole neighborhood laugh.

D.R.: It’s ironic that you bring that up because they are now friends with my siblings on Facebook. My siblings are older than I am, and I’m literally hearing about the twins from my siblings now! Like, my sister will be like, “Oh, Kareem had me in stitches!” I’m like, “When were you talking to Kareem?”

Here’s a question I ask every time I talk with comic collaborators or partners: Have you guys ever gone to couples therapy?
B.S.: No, gosh!

D.R.: Can’t afford it!

B.S.: When we first started working together, there was probably a lot more of “I want to do it this way,” “I want to do it that way.” As we’ve gotten older, obviously there’s room for everybody to have what they want. There’s places where it’s like, Okay, I don’t feel as strongly as he does about that, but I’m gonna support that because he gets it and he sees why it’s funny and vice versa. Ultimately, we have the same goal to make really great stuff — stuff that, like Diallo said, we don’t really get to see. Even now, there are definitely still people trying to make a dramedy, and I think that’s okay, but I’m not interested in that. What I’m interested in is what I consider to be more difficult, which is to actually be funny all the way through. That is very, very hard to pull off, and I always feel honored when we get close to it.

You mentioned the show you developed at HBO about Atlanta, and these past few years you had two critically acclaimed shows. After the HBO thing, did you experience a certain amount of self-doubt, and have these past two years felt like vindication?
B.S.: Before I got to HBO, I was like, Ah, man, they really let writers be who they are and do whatever they do because they have some really avant-garde stuff. Then we got over there, and it was the opposite. There were a lot of notes, there was a lot of direction, and part of the way they make ideas stronger is by challenging those ideas. For me, at least, I sometimes receive that as, Oh, you guys don’t get it. So there were a lot of communication issues, but part of that came from never having developed before, never having been the recipient of notes before. That’s a whole new process you’ve got to get used to. Coming out of that, it made me far stronger about when I know something is really good, so that ended up being very, very helpful. When we did South Side, we really knew who we were comedically. We knew what the show was supposed to be. Even though there were still questions and hurdles, we were stronger because we’d already been through that process.

At the same time, I just feel like you can’t “note” funny, you know what I mean? We had the real great fortune of meeting with Chris Rock years ago when he was editing a movie called Good Hair. He happened to be in the same suite as us, and he said, “You know, this executive, sometimes you want to tell them, ‘Look, just write the check and then we’ll bring you back the project,’” because comedy is not quantifiable. That’s what we were talking about when we talked about the funny people on the street: You either are or you aren’t. Either you got it or you don’t. But there’s no amount of noting or anything else that’s gonna make that happen. This is why traditionally the best sitcoms in the world are some comedian, some stand-up who has great writers around them, and they find a world in which they can really explore themselves.

You had two shows on at once: You’re writing, you’re acting in both, you’re directing, you’re producing. When are you at your happiest?
B.S.: I loved the fact that with South Side and Sherman’s, that was the first time in my entire creative life when we had a real budget and an idea that made us die laughing, and we knew, no matter what, that idea was gonna air. I loved working at Fallon. We worked in that 30 Rock building for four years, and I feel like that building is comedy college. You learn some shit, you develop some toughness. You’ll be in rooms with people who are not laughing at you, and you’ll be like, Ah, man, I thought I was funny! Nope! Not today you ain’t!

For me, there was no greater moment than when Comedy Central put our pilot on YouTube and I read the comments. That was the first time I had unfiltered commentary about this. Before then, you’re getting notes from executives, you’re getting notes from collaborators, and in the back of your brain you’re going, What do the people think? What do the regular rank-and-file comedy fans think? I was just smiling so hard that day because they got the jokes. They were funny to the fans in the way they’d been funny to us, and it really felt like this whole time, like, I knew it! Even to this day, people send Diallo small, little, nuanced, Easter-eggy jokes we thought no one noticed and all this wonderful stuff that really justifies for us that our passion is the right passion to have.

South Side was a rare show that focused on a primarily Black neighborhood and dealt with community and working-class problems, and it did that as a hard comedy at a time when hard comedies aren’t really being made. What do you hope its legacy is?
B.S.: I know this is a charged thing to say, but I’m gonna say it because I don’t give a shit: The same way that Martin or The Cosby Show — and I’m not trying to say we’re in that category because those shows are way bigger than us — kind of came and went, there was a big question about “What’s next?” And I do think so many people were inspired by those shows that they went out and made shows like that. I am so encouraged, Diallo probably more than me, when we meet young writers and a lot of them are trying to make stuff like that.

D.R.: The guys from the show This Fool saw me at an LAFC game and were like, “Man, South Side’s one of my favorite shows.” They didn’t say it, but they sort of implied that This Fool is a show that’s well aware of South Side being a standard for which to try and do their show.

B.S.: We feel like our point of view will carry forward with other great writers, but luckily it’s gonna carry forward with us, too. Like, I love the show Archer, but that isn’t the first show those guys did. The first show they did was Sealab 2021, then after that they did a show called Frisky Dingo, which I’m the only person in America who saw, but to this day, it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. You see the seeds of Archer in Frisky Dingo. Then they got to make Archer, which was a huge hit, and it has all this education in it of all the things Matt Thompson and Adam Reed had ever done.

For us, it’ll be the same. In our next thing, which will be features and some more TV shows, we’ll take everything we learned from South Side and bring it there, and the hope is that we’ll reach even more folks. So between us and between our fans, if you like hard comedy, the future’s gonna be very good for you.

D.R.: Not to throw a last-minute loop in there, but some of the things we’re developing for the second generation are actually not hard comedies. There’s at least one project we’ve written that’s straight-up horror. People will be excited to read how we dabble in horror and potentially film noir and some of these other spaces we haven’t really dabbled in up until now. Sci-fi, perhaps — we’ve got a lot more coming.

B.S.: The through-line of all of it is there’s a certain heightened excitement to the stuff we grew up on that we try to do. So it shouldn’t feel like, Oh, this is another version of a show I’ve seen a lot of. It should feel like, Whoa, this has got me on the edge of my seat. What is this?

So you guys are coming up on 30 years of knowing each other. I know you didn’t start out writing comedy, but a shared sense of humor was a big part of your friendship. In your work since, do you still see the seeds of the people you were 30 years ago? Do you go, like, That’s still those kids
B.S.: You have to fight to preserve that kid because there’s so much cynicism that is possible if you don’t. I love that George Lucas, for example, even though he’s made like 48 quintillion dollars off of selling Star Wars, he’s still super-dedicated to it and concerned about it because he still remembers that young kid who dreamt of all that stuff and he’s trying to preserve that. I love that Spielberg is doing the same thing with the Indy franchise. He’s still trying to hold on to that thing that was very special and really moved him, that made him get out of bed and go, Man, I want to do more of that stuff! That’s actually the challenge as you age in your career as a writer. There’s definitely some days where I want to call Diallo and go, “Look, bro, let’s do a hospital procedural, stop overthinking this shit, and we’re gonna make a lot of money. It’s gonna run for years. It ain’t that complicated!” I was watching House the other day and thinking, Ah, man, we can just do this! This guy’s an obstetrician but he’s an asshole! We can just do it and make it! And I think for us, it’s like, No, I want to make Explorers and I want to make The Goonies!

D.R.: It’s so funny because every time I see something renewed for season seven and it’s a show I don’t watch and all the actors are handsome, I’m like, God, that looks really easy from here!

B.S.: And let’s be fair to one-hour writers: There’s incredible talent in being able to write in that format, knowing where it’s supposed to hit. Every time Law & Order is on, I’ll watch it. If SVU is on, I don’t care what I’m doing, I’m gonna watch the rest of that episode. Those guys really figured out how to keep me in my seat. For us, we’re much more attracted to that ’80s stuff of like, “Yeah, there’s this guy in the woods and there’s a creature that can camouflage and it’s killing everybody! Wait, what is this?” And it’s just so weird because it’s so unexpected. I’m only really good at trying to do stuff you haven’t seen because that’s when my antennae go up and I’m really excited.

D.R.: I’m actually speaking at Harvard for a graduation ceremony later this week, and I’ve been putting in a lot of time thinking about, Man, when I got to Harvard, I thought I was getting into government, and when I left Harvard, I thought I was gonna be a studio executive. I feel like my whole life path has been constantly changing and ending up in places I never expected to be. I definitely don’t think I’m that person I was 30 years ago, but I’m excited about some of the places I think we’ll be in the next five to ten years.

The Many Chicagos of South Side