There are only two must-watch new shows this fall, including The Mayor, which premieres at 9:30 tonight on ABC. But just as surprising as the quality of the show—it’s about a struggling rapper (Brandon Michael Hall) runs for mayor of his town as a publicity stunt, and unexpectedly wins the election—is the resume of its first-time creator, Jeremy Bronson.
Before he worked on shows like The Mindy Project, Speechless and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Bronson spent seven years in TV news, as a producer for NBC News’ political roundtable The Chris Matthews Show, and a supervising producer for Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC.
Bronson spoke with Adweek about his TV news background, how Chris Matthews helped inspire The Mayor and why he’s keeping partisanship out of his political-themed series.
Adweek: What prompted you to transition from TV news to the entertainment side?
Bronson: I had written for the Harvard Lampoon in college, so I was always writing comedy, and even when I was working in TV news, I was still writing on the side. After seven years in D.C. doing that, I was missing it. I started writing my joke packets, and my spec [scripts]—I was having fun writing packets of material, which nobody has fun doing, because you’re going to send it, and it’s going to go in some big pile. I decided that the first bite I got, I was going to take it.
And that bite was…
David Allen Grier, at a Comedy Central show that I worked on [2008’s Chocolate News]. And then I got hired on [Late Night with] Jimmy Fallon, and I became the head monologue writer there. Then, Mindy [Kaling] is a very close friend of mine, and when she got her show, she asked me to work on it, and I loved it and I went to go do that, and that has led to all this.
Had you tried to develop other politically-themed projects before?
I’ve wanted to do a political show for awhile, and even when I was at Hardball, Chris Matthews has a tremendous reverence for people who play the game of politics very well. He’s actually pretty non-ideological, but people that are at least well-intentioned, and want to play the game well, he really admires. And that influenced the way I looked at it too. Looking for those personalities that can really move people to action, I was fascinated by it. I started thinking about different types of outsider candidates, and what the best version of that might look like, and one thing led to another.
Parks and Recreation was another show about small-town politics…
I love that show!
…and local TV news was a recurring element there. Given your background, will you be incorporating local TV news into The Mayor?
100 percent. It is part of the show. The local news and Fort Grey, our fictional Bay Area city, has its own local public affairs show, that Courtney Rose [the mayor’s chief of staff, played by Lea Michele] is going to have to contend with. But in general, I also love local news. And I love the people that work in it. Especially nowadays, these reporters, they’ll do their piece, they’ll record their track [the audio that accompanies the video of a story] themselves, they’ll edit the footage themselves, they do a whole news package. I love people like that. They’re scrappy, and that’s very much a part of this world.
Courtney Rose will get to know all of those local news reporters. In fact, the local reporter in the pilot, Gabby Montoya, is played by an actual ABC7 local news reporter from Los Angeles, [Anabel Munoz]. She’s a part of the world.
You first pitched this show back in July 2016, long before Trump won the election. Has your vision for The Mayor changed at all, given how the election unfolded?
I don’t know how you would make a political show now and not have themes and circumstances that everyone is living through, feeling through and working out, and have that not influence the show. So I’m sure that it has. And there are little oblique references to the election. By and large, I’m aware that the show has become that much more relatable, because of circumstances. But still, I really would love this show to be about the journey and growth of this young man who has a lot of tools to work with—intelligence, heart, caring—but doesn’t know much at all about this process. And is that enough: the heart, and the good intentions? That’s what he’s working through.
In the world of The Mayor, is Donald Trump the president?
There are no Democrats and Republicans in the pilot, which is by design. Mostly because I think it’s a distraction. Party politics are very important, and they have real implications. But for the journey of this character, I would like people to evaluate him, what he’s up against, a little bit in a vacuum, without those influences. By and large, it’s not a show about party politics, and I would like to keep the partisanship out of it.
What’s your take on the cable news landscape now, especially in the past year?
I’m obviously biased, because I spent many, many hours working in it, but I have a lot of appreciation and respect for people that work in most news media, and cable news. It’s a lot of young, super-hardworking people who are traveling a lot, and staying in hotels they don’t want to be in, and they do it for the love of the truth and a devotion to and reverence for this system of government that we have when it’s working at its best. So I don’t come to this show, or the news of it all, with a lot of cynicism. I really respect the people that work at it. Of course, there are bad apples, and those that miss big stories. But it’s a good thing that we have them.