Family Time is the first original sitcom to air on the noncable broadcast channel, Bounce TV. The show is created, written, directed and executive produced by veteran showrunner Bentley Kyle Evans, humorously chronicling a young, black Southern California married couple, contractor Anthony (Omar Gooding) and homemaker Lisa (Angell Conwell) Stallworth, raising their two children (Bentley Kyle Evans, Jr. and Jayla Calhoun), going through the motions of marriage and trying to balance their lives with their family and friends.
Family Time is now in its third season. “It’s all about family,” says Evans, synonymous with developing black sitcoms like Martin, The Jamie Foxx Show, Love That Girl! and another Bounce TV property, My Crazy Roommate. “We gotta get back to family. We want to create programs that our families can sit down and watch together.”
The storylines on Family Time are loosely based on Evans’ own experiences. The native of Oakland, CA is proud to see various platforms like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube now hosting original content that resonates with wider audiences. Co-writing the 1996 romantic comedy A Thin Line Between Love and Hate with lead actor Martin Lawrence, Evans thinks black writers, producers and directors have greater opportunities to have their work seen.
Evans has full creative license on his shows. “You got so many outlets to get your voice heard,” says Evans following a screening of Family Time as part of Steve Harvey’s Neighborhood Awards in Atlanta. “We can’t slip into the darkness. It’s a content-driven business, and audiences have got to know what our experiences are as well.”
Starting out as an intern for Robert Townsend’s classic film, Hollywood Shuffle, Evans grew up in an era when the only options for television were ABC, NBC and CBS. When he started working with FOX on Martin and The WB with The Jamie Foxx Show, major networks were dishing out astronomical amounts of money to produce episodic shows enjoyed by black audiences. Those times have changed.
Shows that run during the regular season have been cut to fewer episodes. The rise of digital platforms now make it possible for showrunners and developers to own their intellectual property and create more or fewer episodes than standard network television. For Evans, partnering his production company, Bent Outta Shape Productions, with Bounce TV, the first and fastest-growing non-cable network geared towards African American viewers, on Family Time is a liberating, lateral shift versus working closely with major Hollywood studios.
“They allow us to tell our real stories without interfering,” says Evans. “I’ve had a whole lot more life experiences, and I’m able to tell those stories, even the tragic ones. I’m able to put a comic spin on it and really know how to formulate those stories for the masses so they can relate.”
Accustomed to portraying recurring roles on numerous sitcoms and television shows throughout his career, Gooding concurs with Evans’ perspectives on the possibilities for creators and talent of color in contemporary television. “It’s very important for us to support these networks,” says Gooding. “You gotta keep Black Hollywood alive. The doors are opening back up.”
Gooding adds, “There’s a lot of stuff networks think black people are. We love to shy away from that. You can see successful parents raise their kids without all of the profanity. We know about the craziness, but show them the good side and have some fun.”
On the set of Family Time, the consensus is that Evans’ infectious leadership is a good influence on the cast and crew. Both Gooding and Conwell are listed as producers on the show, allowing them to have an active voice in the creative process. Family Time’s entire first season was shot in one week, prompting an extroverted Gooding to adapt a new work ethic.
“[Bentley] has that Tyler Perry schedule down packed,” jokes Gooding, calling Evans “an awesome boss.” “He lets us do our thing. I’ve never had that workload, but that rapid pace is actually great. Now I can memorize anything.” Conwell, who has a recurring role on the daytime soap opera, The Young & the Restless, points out that Evans’ soft spoken, open door policy motivates his team to deliver their best performances.
Like Gooding, Conwell calls Evans “the best person to work with,” revealing she has never heard Evans scream or throw a temper tantrum. “He’s very much in charge,” says Conwell, “but he doesn’t make you feel intimidated. He doesn’t limit you as an actor and allows you to be creative. He trusts the people he casts and makes thing much more enjoyable.”
Evans’ next show, In the Cut, is also premiering on Bounce TV. The show stars Dorien Wilson (The Parkers) and Jackee Harry (227, Sister Sister) as a divorced couple who own a barber and beauty salon in the same complex. Always knowing he would work with Evans, Wilson is enthusiastic about being the latest addition to Bounce TV’s program roster.
“As the network grows, we’re growing right along with it,” says Wilson. “They’re giving us an opportunity to play and do things we probably normally wouldn’t have on regular television.”
Martin and The Jamie Foxx Show continue to have new life as syndicated favorites. It surprises Evans, who sums up television as a combination of “strong talent, exceptional writing and impeccable sound,” that new generations of viewers continue to tune into those shows. He encourages aspiring creatives of color to continue creating, negotiating deals and developing their own programs that reflect their realities.
On the other hand, an empowered Evans is humbled to have enjoyed incredible success in television. “We don’t look at those shows as ‘classics,’” suggests Evans. “We didn’t know what we were doing. We were just having fun as kids. To look back and see that, it’s important we continue to keep these types of programs going.”
Family Time’s third season premieres on Oct. 6. In the Cut makes its series premiere on Aug. 25. Check local listings.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for the Burton Wire. He is also contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.