Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Nkechi Okoro Carroll went from being an economist to overseeing 3 TV shows


Nkechi Okoro Carroll occupies a rare space in the TV industry. She's a Black woman who is a showrunner for three different network television shows. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans spent time with her in Los Angeles to find out how she went from being an economist at the Federal Reserve to overseeing series like the CW's "All American."

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: When you walk into Nkechi Okoro Carroll's office, there's a wall above her computer where a framed message hangs - take a deep breath, and remember who the bleep you are. I can't say the actual word on the radio.

NKECHI OKORO CARROLL: I was having a very, very rough day. I saw it on Twitter, and I'd posted, oh, my gosh, this is what I need in my office. And literally one of my actors ran out, got one printed, framed and everything, and within an hour was like, here.

DEGGANS: It makes sense because so much of Carroll's success seems rooted in who she is - a child of Nigerian immigrants who fell in love with American TV shows like "Beverly Hills 90210" and "General Hospital." Now she's the showrunner, or top creative authority and manager, for three different shows - the CW's "All American," its spinoff, "All American: Homecoming," and a new fall drama on NBC, "Found." On "All American," Taye Diggs plays a high school football coach thinking of leaving California for another job when he's confronted by athlete Spencer James, played by Daniel Ezra.


TAYE DIGGS: (As Billy Baker) There are other coaches.

DANIEL EZRA: (As Spencer James) How many times do I have to tell you? You are not just a coach. You're a father - the only one some of these kids will ever know.

DEGGANS: Fans know that the story for Diggs' character recently took a poignant turn. Carroll says the show depicts many different kinds of Black youth.

CARROLL: I just saw a real opportunity to make a show that I would have loved to watch growing up, a show that I'd be proud to sit down and watch with my kids, that also just put hope and dreams back in our community.

DEGGANS: In high school, Carroll loved both writing and economics. So while she was earning a master's degree in international economics from New York University, and later while working for the Federal Reserve, she would write and direct plays on the side.

CARROLL: I'd be at the trading desk by, like, 6:30, 7 in the morning, do the trades we were doing that day to stabilize the banking system, and then 6 p.m. I was out the door to whatever blackbox theater we were putting up, whatever play we were putting up.

DEGGANS: Later, she decided to learn TV, downloading scripts off the internet and working as an extra to watch productions. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, she dedicated herself to becoming a TV writer.

CARROLL: 9/11 was a real wake-up call of tomorrow's not promised. You know, there was a significant portion of that day where my family was convinced they would never see me again because I was downtown. We were barricaded under - literally under the Federal Reserve, where we keep the gold, when the towers started falling. And so - but it was one of those things where it's just like, OK, you're getting a second chance at life. What are you doing with it?

DEGGANS: Carroll moved to Los Angeles, where she met writer, show creator and actress Lena Waithe and writer-producer Erika Johnson. In 2014, they gathered Black women working in TV to network. And the group Black Women Who Brunch was born.

LENA WAITHE: I think we got the idea because we saw a post on Facebook about a bunch of Black men writers getting together, and we just were like, why don't we do that?

DEGGANS: That's Lena Waithe, who became the first Black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing in 2017 for an episode of Netflix's "Master Of None." The Black Women Who Brunch group began with about 12 people meeting at Carroll's house, and it's grown to several dozen women.

WAITHE: It really just sort of feels like a sisterhood that we didn't know could exist.

DEGGANS: These days, Carroll is juggling her duties on the "All American" series while filming "Found," a TV show about a Black woman who leads a team focused on finding missing people who are forgotten, often people of color. For Carroll, it's all about exploiting the rapid impact of TV.

CARROLL: But the thing I love the most about TV is the immediacy of it. If I have something I want to say about the world, I can put it in a script, and in six weeks it's on the air.

DEGGANS: Eric Deggans, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.