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AMC Studios

Programming Profile

Showcasing Sherman


Sketch show Sherman’s Showcase could just be the best comedy series you haven’t yet seen, and amid the Black Lives Matter movement, its shift to AMC in the US and global content licensing roll-out could be very timely indeed. AMC Studios is showcasing it to the world via C21 Digital Screenings this week.


“The show has never lost a fan. Everybody who comes for the show and watches it is here for it,” says Bashir Salahuddin, co-creator and star of music-themed sketch show Sherman’s Showcase.


To explain the programme’s concept is tricky. It’s a sketch show, based largely around music with original songs and John Legend among its executive producers. The sketches and songs are strung together in the form of a variety show inspired by series such as Soul Train, American Bandstand, The Midnight Special and In Living Color. Host Sherman McDaniel (Salahuddin) takes viewers through the history of music and comedy using clips from fictitious musical variety shows.


“It reminds me of our early 20s when we watched The Chappelle Show on Friday nights before we headed out,” Salahuddin says. “It’s additive to your social life and that’s what we wanted.”


Diallo Riddle and Bashir Salahuddin in Sherman's Showcase
Diallo Riddle and Bashir Salahuddin in
Sherman’s Showcase

In the end, you probably just have to watch it to understand, and once you do it’s likely you’ll get hooked and stick around. Having debuted in 2019 with a six-episode run on minor US cablenet IFC, and followed that up with a Black History Month special in June, its audience and critical response has seen it make the jump to AMC for its six-episode second run.


Diallo Riddle, the show’s other co-creator, is looking forward to upping the ambition for season two on the bigger network.


“We’ve learned a lot about what material works,” he says. “Some sketches and bits worked because the performer is outstanding. Bashir is fantastic to watch, Bresha Webb was incredible, Rob Hayes played a young Morris Day in regular season then came back for the special. He played Terrence Howard renegotiating his contract for Iron Man 2, which is a classic moment in black cinematic history. Others worked because they’re conceptually fun, weird and offbeat. We’ve had creative freedom to make something bizarre and weird, and people have responded.


“Bashir and I love to say ‘Let’s go big.’ It’s a bigger network with a larger footprint so expect bigger, bolder, wilder decision in the creative process. I want to do bigger songs. We were often writing music as we were going into pre-production on season one. Sometimes that can lead to the best possible creative decisions, but I am relishing the idea of using the Covid-19 period to talk to Bashir and our favourite writers about song ideas they have so we can have fully fleshed-out musicals. We can use this time to make it big and robust.”


Getting the music right is paramount. “We work with great musicians to make sure the songs are legitimately good. When Diallo deejays he plays the Sherman’s Showcase music at clubs and people go crazy. We’re proud to have a show that’s really funny and it’s musically right,” Salahuddin says.


Sherman’s Showcase
Sherman’s Showcase

AMC Studios is also now shopping the series abroad, something Salahuddin and Riddle say fits perfectly with their musical influences and the songs that feature in the show. The pair are huge Britpop fans and reference artists like Blur, Underworld and The Chemical Brothers, along with DJs like Pete Tong repeatedly.


“It’s our love letter to black music and you have international dance music, hip hop, soul, R&B and others all flowing out of the black tradition,” Riddle says. “We’ve always hoped the show finds an international audience because music is an international language, and in our view you don’t even have to get all the movies and TV shows we’re referencing to get it. There are all these music genres that have gone through the world and won and on top of that we have humour and lightness trying to bring laughter into people’s homes.”


“It’s teed up for an international audience,” adds Salahuddin. “Music is an international language and we know the beats are going to be dope. If you’re a comedy nerd there are deeper levels of jokes because we believe in layering things but if you don’t know anything about the show before you watch it it’s still funny as hell. And it’s all presented in a variety format that people across the world have seen with the Simon Cowell shows, Top of the Pops and Eurovision.


“It’s an anarchistic form that enables us to do whatever we want to do and we’re stoked for it to be shared more widely.”


The duo got their start as writers in sketch comedy with an LA-based sketch comedy troop for many years. That continued to a point where they began working on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, where they stayed for four years writing sketches. Sherman’s Showcase had been rattling round in their minds for more than a decade and the Fallon gig gave them enough of a calling card to get a foot in the door at IFC.


Having built it, they’ve found people are keen to come. Quincy Jones has starred in sketches while Hollywood director Matt Piedmont, of Will Ferrell’s Casa De Mi Padre fame, helms the episodes.


Although the show was originally greenlit, aired, picked up by AMC and greenlit for a second season before the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police sparked race riots and the Black Lives Matter movement across the US, it may now be a very attractive option for buyers in a TV industry keen to look at itself in a mirror and ask if it’s doing enough for diverse voices.


“It’s accidentally timely,” agrees Riddle. “We write from the point of view of guys who grew up in large black families and these were the topics from around the dinner table that we’re trying to find a funny angle on. We wrote the house song Add Some Kente last October in which we’re not only wearing Kente cloth but one character is wearing a gas mask as our version of the Daft Punk DJ helmet. Lo and behold, the song comes out when US politicians are wearing Kente to show support and half the country is wearing masks. If it seems timely it’s because people are now starting to discuss and discover topics that have previously only been discussed in minority communities.


“It’s good people are having those conversations and it’s exciting our show gets to be a part of the conversation.”


The pair tells a story about pitching a show set in Atlanta to HBO back in 2012 but having difficulty convincing execs that the city did have all-black malls and a strip club culture where DJs were paid thousands to play a young rapper’s song because they knew big names would be in there and hear it – scenes that subsequently formed the backbone of Donald Glover’s Atlanta on FX.


“We got so much pushback because they couldn’t take our word that this was a thing and a sub-culture,” Riddle recalls. “We’ve had to deal with that before and I suspect we’ll still have to deal with it, but the conversations taking place at the moment hopefully mean we won’t have to have that conversation for so long next time, because we could have had that show on air in 2012.”


“TV moves in waves,” adds Salahuddin. “Obviously, Bill Cosby is now serving time for crimes, but I don’t think people realise how revolutionary The Bill Cosby Show was. They were upwardly mobile, loving parents of a black family. Nothing like it had come before and we grew up watching that thinking we were at the vanguard of a whole new world of different black content. Then it all went away.


“Hopefully the current wave with Atlanta, our show, other series from these perspectives can be a gateway for shows like them to stick around longer. Now more than any time in history we’re teed up for this current wave to last a long time and empower voices.”