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UPDATE: Since our 2019 interview with Terence Carter, he has moved to serve as co-president and head of television at Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith's Westbrook Studios.

This GDS lifer has been instrumental in producing some of the most exciting television programming available: EmpireGothamSleepy Hollow, a reboot of Lethal Weapon, and upcoming shows like The Passage and Proven Innocent

Terence’s work is reshaping the landscape of broadcast, cable, and streaming. In 2009, he was named one of The Hollywood Reporter’s “Next Generation: Top 35 Executives Under 35.” In 2017, Jonnie Davis, president of creative affairs, 20th Century Fox TV wrote, “Terence is a spectacular creative executive who has been responsible for some of the network’s biggest and boldest hits.” The same year, he was honored as the recipient of the Ron Brown Scholar Emerging Leader Award. 

Lee Daniels, director of the films The Butler and Precious, for which he was nominated for a Best Director Academy Award, was unable to attend the Ron Brown Scholar event as he was finishing the finales to his standout shows Empire and Star for Terence. “I know you would kick my *** if I didn’t get them done on time,” he said via video introduction. “The bottom line is that Terence has always embraced my insanity. He supports my vision and that’s incredible. I know that his position in the entertainment industry will empower and inspire other talented, young African American men and women in this audience tonight. And I wish Terence luck as he continues forward with his groundbreaking approach and creativity in the arts and his dedication to empowering the next generation of young African American leaders.” 

On what he looks for in a hit show
“When considering material, I’m always looking for a story that a writer is incredibly passionate to tell. For a while, I’d been wanting to do a show set in the world of hip hop. It felt like a broadly-accessible, populist form of music that hadn’t yet been really explored in television. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I was always on the lookout. 

“Then, Lee Daniels and Danny Strong walked in the door and they had a very specific take on it. First, Lee Daniels brought his own, personal experience as a gay, African American man whose father rejected his sexuality. Then Danny Strong [writer of The Butler, two-part finale of The Hunger Games, HBO’s Recount and Game Change] complemented that by asking how can we give these elements a Shakespearean, operatic kind of structure? 

“I look for those layered elements. Is it going to be purely entertaining on the surface—excitement, thrills, awesome dance and musical numbers or other great opportunities for performance—but then also, will it explore substantive, tangible stuff underneath that? Does it also feel timeless? Ten years from now, will it still feel relevant because of its universal themes? You don’t always get all of those things. Sometimes you have to settle for doing one or two of them really right. But I’m always hoping to get the perfect storm. 

“Fundamentally, in broadcast you want to cast your show out to the broadest audience possible. When you are able to reach people from all different walks of life, have something inside of your show that can connect with all those different audiences, and let them feel represented inside of your show, that captures them as an audience and holds them inside your show. You do that best when there is a purity of vision and of voice where you are able to tell someone’s truth at the core of it. 

On supporting diversity in Hollywood
“Lee Daniels’ show Star brings the opportunity, for instance, to tell stories about an African American transgender experience that hadn’t been told on television before. So many people contribute to how great these shows are. My role is to identify these really talented people, figure out the best way to get them all to work together, and give them a path to bring their vision to life. But it makes me really proud to be able to do something that is both entertaining and also has that kind of impact. 

“…[E]ven a show like Sleepy Hollow—which I loved and was this fun, crazy, high-concept show—we had one of the most diverse casts on television, especially given the fact that it’s this tiny little upstate New York town of Sleepy Hollow. You know, not exactly realistic in its representation, but that’s OK. It’s a show about ghosts and goblins, so I didn’t feel so bad. Still, it’s the blackest town in upstate New York you’ve ever seen. 

On how GDS feedback has stayed with him
“I especially remember a short paper I wrote for Gary McCown, my fantastic 11th grade English teacher. His response to my paper was probably longer than my paper was. He gave me a B+, but then proceeded to outline everything about the paper he disagreed with. His gesture told me, ‘I care so much about what you wrote that I want to give you this critical feedback. You did really well, but here is everything I think is missing from it.’ I so valued that kind of feedback that it ultimately conveyed to me to rewrite the paper based on his notes. Even though I had a win with that B+, his feedback is what drove me to want to get an A. 

“I’ve taken that lesson with me and try to give the same kind of respect and attention to the detail that I know others have put into things. I try even when being critical to give that kind of feedback. 

"There were a lot of teachers like that in all of my years at GDS, challenging me to always be the best possible version of myself.”

On his GDS DNA and bringing it to Hollywood
“When I reconnect with someone inside Hollywood from GDS, I get so excited. I remember I was so thrilled about a director I’d hired for a pilot because he is immensely talented—and it was Ruben Fleischer ’92 [most recently director of Venom]. We discovered the connection while working on the project. There is an unspoken common ground that you share having been through GDS. It’s a willingness to look at things in different ways, to consider other perspectives and opinions and not be so entrenched in tradition or history or social norms or what one ‘ought’ to do. That is something a lot of people don’t get in their elementary and high school upbringing.

"It’s not woven into their DNA the way it is for GDS grads.”

“I feel like in this entertainment business especially, it’s really helpful to be able to see things from other perspectives. Couple this open mindedness with a sense of responsibility to do right in this world. Spread good things, act morally—ethically, to have a core set of values.” 

“Los Angeles is often dinged for NOT having those attributes and putting out content that is missing those things at its core. Whereas I love having those things at the core of most of the things that I do. I always try to infuse that into the things I’m working on. What can we say that is going to inspire somebody, even in a show as high-concept as The Passage? It’s a crazy, gory vampire show but, at the center of it, there is a beautiful, loving relationship between a little girl and her surrogate father. I am always trying to find that. I really do owe that ability to look at the world through that lens to my experience at GDS.”

Photo Credit: Emma Holly Jones

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