When it came to making a show about his hometown, Sam Richardson said the success of Comedy Central’s “Detroiters” was driven by an unyielding focus on authenticity, down to every last detail.
Richardson and Tim Robinson, both Michigan-natives, are creators and stars of the show about two friends in their 30s working to build their own success as advertising executives in the Motor City.
The duo earned the admiration and attention of viewers from across the nation with their 10-episode debut season of “Detroiters.”
Richardson said accuracy was key to successfully illustrating Detroit on a national stage, when so many other shows have failed to gain traction.
“A lot of shows that try to portray the city are written by people who aren’t from the city, so it’s always an exterior view,” said Richardson in a phone interview.
“It’s like writing a biography about your sister, versus writing about somebody you admire from afar,” he said. “Or…you don’t even admire, but who you’ve just seen.”
For Detroiters, it’s easy to spot when something’s not right. In the show the characters would never order a ginger ale, it’s only Vernors. They balk when a new neighbor in their downtown office building bikes to work for exercise, but not when the workday breakfast menu involves coney dogs, Faygo pop, or a giant bag of Better Made potato chips.’
“People rep their home cities but Detroit, it’s like another thing…like a whole ‘nother thing,” said Richardson, who feels Detroiters are still proud despite the often negative portrayals of the city.
“If they’re proud of it for its art, or their proud of it for its grit, or their proud of it for its beauty, all of those things Detroiters find pride and love in it,” said Richardson. “A lot of cities have that loyalty, but Detroit’s is very unique and I’d say maybe tops.”
That could’ve been a lot of pressure for the show’s writers, but Richardson said growing up in Detroit allowed him to see the specifics that are often overlooked by outsiders.
“On ‘Detroiters’, every decision comes down to us,” said Richardson. “If there’s a car, we have the final say on everything, which is great and unique,” he said. “Specificity is so key, but our specificity is on a macro-scale.”
This attention to detail is also why Richardson didn’t think twice about which song would be played when the line dance known as the hustle appears several times during the fifth episode.
“I fought so hard,” he said. “If you’re from Detroit hopefully you notice it is the Stevie Wonder, ‘My Eyes Don’t Cry No More’,” said Richardson, who was adamant it was the only song choice.
“A song like that costs five figures to use in a TV show,” said Richardson. Someone suggested the team just use a different song, Richardson said. “I was like no, it has to be this, trust me.”
Richardson said he’s never satisfied, but does feel “Detroiters” accomplished its goal while shining a positive light on the city.
Executives at Comedy Central agree, as representatives from the network recently announced “Detroiters” being renewed for a second season, set to premiere in 2018.
“I am happy and am very proud of what we’ve done with the show,” said Richardson. “My next goal would be to have even more people see it and have that permeate the national consciousness.”
Ron Terrell, age 45, is a Bloomfield Hills-native now living in Oklahoma. He said he thinks the depictions of Detroit have been accurate and entertaining, especially when it comes to featuring prominent Detroiters and guest appearances.
Season One guest stars on “Detroiters” included comedian and actor Keegan-Michael Key, professional wrestler Kevin Nash, and Detroit Pistons legend Rick Mahorn, among many others.
“My favorites have to be Rick Mahorn’s knockoff Mel Farr ad, and the Mort Crim cameos,” said Terrell, who is a news anchor with KOKI-TV in Tulsa. “I grew up watching [Mort Crim], and now being a news anchor myself, those crack me up,” said Terrell.
Mel Farr was a former Detroit Lions running back turned car salesman. His red cape and comic book-inspired television advertisements earned him the nickname, “Mel Farr Superstar” in the 1980s. In the show, these ads make their reappearance with Mahorn wearing the red cape.
Mort Crim is a retired Detroit television broadcaster who is credited as being the inspiration behind the character Ron Burgundy in the movie “Anchorman.” In “Detroiters,” Crim is often seen on the evening news as it plays in Sam and Tim’s favorite dive bar.
Terrell said he thinks the show is able to attract a national audience because the jokes are funny, regardless of where viewers are from.
“What I think is so unique about the show is the number of references that non-Detroiters probably don’t get, but still find funny,” said Terrell. “It works because the writing is good. The situations are intentionally stupid and I think that works.”
According to the popular online review website Rotten Tomatoes, it does seem to be working. “Detroiters” ended its first season with an 87 percent positive score from critics.
Aside from the authentic Detroit pride, the friendship of the show’s main characters has resonated with fans. That, too, is authentic.
“Yeah, [we’re] real life best friends,” said Richardson. “We get each other’s comedy. We’re always laughing or joking about something.”
When it comes to plans for next season, Richardson said viewers will see more of their favorite characters.
“Fans can expect our world to grow a little bit,” Richardson said. “More brotherly love.”
In a press release, Comedy Central President Kent Alterman called Sam and Tim’s friendship on the show “infectious.”
“Sam and Tim’s sweet, goofy friendship is so infectious, we’ve noticed people being nicer to each other,” said Alterman. “Perhaps we’ll set season two in D.C.”