Hard work, determination, a creative spirit, and a knack for funny is what has cemented executive producer Bentley Kyle Evans’ place in television and film history. The 20-year-plus industry veteran is the creator, director, and executive producer of Bounce TV shows Family Time and In the Cut. He began his career as an intern for Robert Townsend, took that knowledge and catapulted his own career first in front of the camera, and eventually behind the scenes crafting characters from real life experiences. In the late-1990s, Evans stepped into the unique position as the show runner with two shows running simultaneously on different networks: Martin on FOX TV and The Jamie Foxx Show on the WB. Both shows remain in syndication.
SoulTrain.com spoke with Bentley Kyle Evans about his new projects, his creative process, and lessons he has learned in his entertainment industry journey.
SoulTrain.com: What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Bentley Kyle Evans: The highlight of my career so far has been to sit down and write two full scripts with Eddie Murphy. I think out of everything that I have done, that’s kind of the coolest thing that I have done so far. [I believe that] anybody in the comedy industry—especially black—[is] in this industry because of Eddie Murphy and what he brought to the game. All the big stars—Jamie Foxx, Martin Lawrence—hold Eddie Murphy in the highest regard since Richard Pryor is no longer with us. I think Eddie is truly the real king of comedy. He is the one who took comedy to rock star status in my opinion, so for me to be able to sit at the same table as the king and write dialogue and make him laugh is pretty much the highlight for me. That’s when I felt like I had made it to the top of the pyramid, so there’s a lot of bragging rights there.
SoulTrain.com: Absolutely! What an amazing experience. Speaking of highlights, what does it feel to literally be ruling the airwaves with several shows on Bounce TV, TV One, and you still have shows like Martin and The Jamie Foxx Show in syndication?
Bentley Kyle Evans: It feels like it’s a natural progression. When we first did the Martin show I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t know that the show would become somewhat iconic. Every kid that I talk to says that this is their favorite sitcom. It’s become a cult-like presence in the community. We were just some kids when we first started doing this, 24, 25 years old, going to work, writing jokes and putting them in script form and putting them on the air. At that time it was really cool. Going into The Jamie Foxx Show, I was a seasoned producer when I created that show. So now, it doesn’t feel any different, but it feels like this is the place that I’m supposed to be. I don’t have that same excitement to see my name on TV or to see my work on television. It’s probably because I critique myself now, so I’m probably my biggest critic. I’m over the whole excitement of being in the business, but it’s become a part of who I am.
SoulTrain.com: What’s the log line for the new Bounce TV show In the Cut?
Bentley Kyle Evans: It’s about a barber named Jay Weaver, played by Dorien Wilson, who basically has a barber shop and life has been going great except for a recent divorce and a 30- year-old son who shows up at his door wanting to get to know his biological father. That basically flips Jay’s world into a whole new stratosphere, because you have a guy who has been locked up in a marriage for years, just out of his third marriage to Nadine who is played by Jackee Harry. Ken Lawson from The Parkers plays Jay’s son who shows up out of the blue. We’re breaking some records, which is exciting.
SoulTrain.com: Talk about the show Family Time.
Bentley Kyle Evans: We are going into the third season and we are excited about that. I have a certain affinity for Family Time; I feel like whenever I am writing or even watching the episodes, it just feels so real because it’s close to my real family. I guess it doesn’t hurt that the young son on the show is my son in real life, Bentley Kyle Evans Junior, who plays Devin Stallworth. That’s a lot of fun—you know we have to put our own in! The thing I like about Family Time is that it’s not about the four people who live in that house; it’s about the extended family, going through the relationships. Lisa Stallworth, played by Angell Conwell, has all this baggage with her sisters and her father and all their drama, and the same goes for Tony Stallworth who is played by Omar Gooding. He brings all his family drama: the fact that his brother is in an interracial relationship and has identity crisis problems, and a mother who wants to be treated like a queen. They bring both sets of their drama so it’s just a hodge-podge of fun there.
The way that this show came about was after we had done 65 episodes of Love That Girl for TV One, I kind of wanted to do a family show. At that time I felt like there were no black family shows on the air since the Cosby Show. I had not seen it done properly, so I said how can I do this thing but make it so that I can really relate to it? I figured that they don’t have to be old black parents, they can be young and kind of hip. The Stallworths are young, they were high school sweethearts who got married in their early 20s and started family, so they are very in tune with what kids are saying. I call it the Cosby Show with skinny jeans. To go out and try to sell something like this to networks was very difficult. So I told my partner, Trent Gumbs, that I was going to write the scripts and I said let’s shoot it independently. We shot six episodes independently and then we were able to take it over to the Bounce TV executives and work out a partnership with it, and here we are 26 episodes later.
SoulTrain.com: What about the TV One show Mitch N Max?
Bentley Kyle Evans: It’s kind of weird thing how that came about. I was approached to do the show Born Again Virgin by TV One, and at the time I was in the process of doing Family Time, so the timing was off and they went with another production company. They came to me with this project that was tentatively called Mitch N Max and wondered if I would do it. It was written as a single camera comedy so I took it and put it in sitcom format as a multi-camera comedy. I then when out and got some names that people really liked, so I grabbed Jaleel White and DeRay Davis. The characters were created by a writer named Rhonda Baraka, so I took what she had already put together and made it work for multi-camera. The show is kind of like a hip- hop version of The Odd Couple, so I said you can’t get any odder than DeRay and Jaleel White. We put that together as a pilot and it aired recently, and we’re waiting to see the results are from TV One.
SoulTrain.com: What is your process as a writer and creator? Are you a writer that has to wait for inspiration to hit, or do you have to have candles and a certain ambiance to write?
Bentley Kyle Evans: I would like for it to be when the inspiration hits me, but when you are independent you don’t have time to wait for inspiration, you have to jump on it! What I do is I have my setting proper; I like to write at night, like from 9PM to 3AM, in six-hour increments. I find that time is most peaceful. You feel like you are cheating time and getting ahead while everyone else is asleep. I have my incense going, light some candles. My fragrance is gardenias—I love that—and I usually write in my home office. I smoke cigars and sometimes I just walk the backyard and talk these stories out; I talk it out like they are real people, like they really exist when I’m breathing life into these guys. So I’m usually basing my characters on someone that I know or different elements of myself at different times in my life, and so that’s my creative process. I don’t try to name the characters at first, I just start talking in dialogue and the names just kind of fit in.
SoulTrain.com: How did you discover that being behind the scenes was your passion?
Bentley Kyle Evans: I was an awkward kid in that I didn’t know what I was good at. I wasn’t good at sports, I wasn’t a good student, and I just didn’t have that one thing. I was awkward, one thing I did do was sit in front of that television. I was a television kid, I would have big bowl of Frosted Flakes and I could sing you any of the songs from TV shows. I just kind of knew stories and what would make good episodic TV. When I turned 18, I didn’t know where I wanted to go because I didn’t want to pursue college necessarily, but I thought maybe real estate, which I delved into a little bit but didn’t take seriously.
When I went to Robert Townsend’s house for the first time, I was an aspiring actor. I heard the conversations they were having and they invited me to the set of Hollywood Shuffle. Robert was shooting that pretty much on his own credit card and asking for volunteers and I volunteered. When I had my very first day on the set I fell in love with the business. I knew right then and there, that’s where I was supposed to be. I didn’t know that I was supposed to be behind the scenes, but I just know I was supposed to be a part of this. It felt natural, everyone made me feel very comfortable from day one. I read the script from cover to cover and I knew that I wanted to be writing these stories. I had never read a script before, but I knew that was it. Robert was the one who told me I was a behind the scenes guy, but he told me to try my hand at acting and that’s my way in the door; you don’t have a college degree, so try the acting thing, get to meet as many producers as you can, and then you can make a gradual transition into behind the scenes. That’s what I did.
SoulTrain.com: What would you say was the biggest lesson you learned from Robert Townsend during that time?
Bentley Kyle Evans: The biggest lesson I learned is what I’m doing right now: Green light yourself. Don’t wait for Hollywood to come calling you. If you are waiting, more than likely they will not show up. Robert took the initiative to write his own script, got his credit card and didn’t wait for anybody. He realized if you build it they will come, and that’s what he did with Hollywood Shuffle. He wrote the script, shot it, and Samuel Goldwyn came in and gave him a distribution deal. Had he not taken that first step as a budding filmmaker it would have never have gotten done. I took that lesson. Although I was working for Warner Bros. and the big studios, after those studios stopped calling my phone frequently I realized that if I want to stay in this business I have to take the Robert Townsend approach. That was the most important lesson I learned from him.
SoulTrain.com: What else are you working on?
Bentley Kyle Evans: We are getting ready to start working on our next season of Family Time, and then we’re going to follow that up with In the Cut. I have also completed three scripts with Eddie Murphy—two of them which we wrote together, and then another one we collaborated with two other writers who wrote Boomerang and Coming to America. I have a Thin Line Between Love and Hate 2, which Martin Lawrence and I wrote together. We wrote the first one together. We are taking our second one out and we have a distribution company lined up that wants to do the movie, so that’s good news. Lynn Whitfield is on board and so is Regina King, so we’re trying to make that happen.
Follow Bentley Kyle Evans on Twitter @BentleyEvans.
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Five, Creative Loafing, Carolina Style Magazine, Uptown Magazine, Sheen Magazine, WEtv.com, or her own websites, www.themofochronicles.com and www.conversationswithmeik.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram @mofochronicles.