Donald Glover created a hit TV show by not really trying to make a TV show at all


The latest episode of FX’s Atlanta broadcast in the US stepped away from the central characters—rapper Paper Boi and his manager-cousin Earn, played by Donald Glover—for the first time and centered on Vanessa, the mother of Earn’s child.

It was the first episode directed by Glover—the show’s star and creator—and he wanted to capture her point of view. Never having never directed a TV show before, he leaned on actress Zazie Beetz when directing her character’s facial expressions, as well as other people like the show’s director of photography Christian Sprenger.

“I was really trying to get a black woman’s perspective in Atlanta a little bit—and not being a black woman, that’s going to be kind of hard,” Glover told AdWeek. “So I relied on her and Christian, whose eye is very good for expressions… You have trust in your like actors and people around you.”

Each of Glover’s team members also bring their own, unique perspectives to the show. Most of the writers and a primary director had never worked in TV before but they understood Glover’s vision, he told the publication. “I just hired people who had the point of view I had,” he said. “Also, we shared similar tastes as far as, we like cool stuff.”

Glover’s focus on making the show feel right is part of what makes Atlanta unlike anything else on TV. It’s less about story and more about tone. As Glover has said, he wants Atlanta to show people what it feels like to be black.

“Good music is all tone. It’s like, ‘This just feels good’,” Glover told AdWeek. “I felt like in television, it’s important to try that, especially if we’re going to be tackling a lot of black perspective.” That stems from Glover’s roots as a hip-hop artist. Under the stage name Childish Gambino, Glover has strived to make music that he would himself would enjoy. He once rapped:

The black experience is black and serious
‘Cause being black my experience is no-one hearing us
White kids get to wear whatever hat they want
When it comes to black kids, one size fits all

The show, which launched last month in the US on FX, has performed consistently well for a new scripted comedy. Its premiere had one of the highest viewership lifts for an FX comedy, behind Baskets, in the three days after it first aired. And 1.1 million people tuned into watch Atlanta’s first episode when it premiered on Sept. 6—a solid turnout for a scripted comedy in an era of time-shifted viewing. The show was renewed for a second season just two episodes into the first, which is fast in the TV world.

Glover is holding off on making any big decisions about what’s next for the series until he hears how the audience responds to the first 10 episodes.

“Season two will be affected by how people take in the food we’re giving them,” Glover said. “I don’t know what that means, but I want to see how it all fits with them. Because I think that’s part of our making art is that we’re in this together. It’s a dance, really.”

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