While Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood mainly claim their stakes on weekdays, the place to be on the weekends, is Central Ave. It’s a nationally syndicated entertainment and pop culture magazine featuring some powerhouse names behind the scenes and in front of the camera.
Will Packer is well known as the producer of such mega-hit movies as Girls Trip, Think Like a Man and Straight Outta Compton. On TV, he’s made a name in the scripted game with series that have aired on OWN, ABC, HISTORY, BET and NBC.
Packer and co-creator Monique Chenault have come up with a show that ticks a lot of boxes, especially during such a crucial time in America. It’s diverse, informative, socially conscious and isn’t afraid to go in-depth on a story. “Central Ave has changed the way audiences view and relate to pop culture and the entertainment world,” Packer says. “The diverse and powerful stories featured on this show are meant to provoke, infuriate, inspire people to make positive change that will impact our society and the world around us.”
With such a serious mission statement, Central Ave needed two hosts who could rise to the challenge. This is where Julissa Bermudez and Sanya Richards-Ross enter the equation. They are two women of color who’ve taken different paths on the way to the Atlanta studio where the series is produced.
Bermudez is a veteran entertainment reporter and actress known for her work on the iconic music show BET’s 106th & Park and Amazon’s Hunters. Richards-Ross is a four-time Olympic gold medalist in track and field. She scored her medals in Athens, Beijing and London.
Richards-Ross and Bermudez recently answered a few questions about Central Ave for TV Goodness.
TV Goodness: How did you make the pivot from being a four-time Olympic gold medalist to TV host?
Sanya Richards-Ross: I was extremely intentional about the things I wanted to achieve after my career was over. I was very prayerful and I would write everything down and just really worked hard on putting myself in a position to be able to do something else I was really passionate about. I really wanted to do television and I didn’t want to be boxed into just doing sports.
So I have to say it was a lot of prayer, manifestation, a little bit of luck that [Central Ave Showrunner] Monique Chenault said she saw me competing and saw my interviews when I would compete and fell in love with me on the track and gave me this opportunity to work on this show. So it has been a dream come true. I’m using a lot of the skill sets that I learned on the track to transition into my new role as a host, and I’m learning every day and just hoping to grow every single week.
TV Goodness: Julissa, how did this job come into your life? Did you have to face a lot of competition?
Julissa Bermudez: The competition never ends, but at the end of the day, I compete with myself because if I were to get to naming the amount of years that I thought that I needed to compete with anyone else, then it would just be an absolute waste of time. So I’m glad that, with age, I’ve realized that the only competition is really with who I’m looking at every day in the mirror.
So this job, in particular, came by way of never knowing who’s watching. And when I say that, I had no idea that our producers and creators of the show, Will Packer and Monique Chenault, even knew who I am, even knew, sort of, my resume. And to think they actually called my agent and wanted to meet with me and have me audition for the show was an absolute blessing. And that’s why I say you have to just do the best for you and not worry about anyone else because ultimately, you never know who’s watching. And if you’re always giving your best, trust me, you’re going to get the attention of the people you want to work with one day. And this absolutely has been a dream for me.
TV Goodness: Why is Central Ave the right show for right now? What does that mean to you?
Sanya: Central Ave is the right show for right now because I think there’s so many things happening in our community that affect all of us. And so to be able to tell stories authentically, by having diversity in front of and behind the camera, I think, is really caring about the people who are affected by the stories. It shows a tremendous thoughtfulness and authenticity. And so I’m super excited to be able to be a part of this groundbreaking new show with Will Packer and Monique Chenault, and hopeful this show will become a daily show and be on your TVs even more often, and excited to have this hour format that allows us to dig deep into our stories and to really tell them with a lot of love and passion.
TV Goodness: Talk about this being a Will Packer Production, how he is as a collaborator, and what you might have learned from Will and Monique?
Julissa: Oh my gosh. So much to learn from Will and Monique. First of all, Will, he’s just so great at what he does when he comes on set the amount of energy this man brings and the way he just views things makes you just get better and be better and want to be better. So same with Monique. I’ve learned that entertainment news and pop culture intersect our lives way more than I think the average person would ever realize that it does, and how much influence pop culture and entertainment actually has on your life.
And I learned a lot of that from Monique because of the way we are telling these stories on Central Ave. It forces you to think like, ‘Wow, I actually never realized I had this much influence by way of who I look up to, the celebrities I’m influenced by,’ and all of that is super important, especially nowadays. Who is it that has a message you want to follow?
TV Goodness: The show had a successful test run and now Central Ave is back with a full season. What do you think fans of the show have been responding to the most?
Sanya: I think fans can feel the authenticity of the show. I think that … Obviously, I can only look at my own inner circle and the responses I’ve been getting. And I feel like a lot of people now ask why when they hear headlines and see stories. They want to know more. And so to be able to bring that to them the way we have, where we dig a little bit deeper, we tell you something you didn’t know, we uncover, unpeel another layer of the story. I think people really, really appreciate that. And I think that’s probably what they feel connected to as well as I think women love to see us on the screen, to see women that look like them reporting the stories. I think that really matters. We know representation matters. And so I think that’s also something that resonates with them as well.
TV Goodness: What was it like to meet each other and what would you say each other’s strengths are?
Julissa: It was so much fun, actually, to meet each other because we met during the audition and instantly had chemistry. And that was almost a little more than two years ago. So we’ve been on this journey of Central Ave from the very beginning. And I think what I’ve learned from Sanya is definitely striving to be my best always because this is a woman that is a champion, on and off the field, her work ethic, the fact she’s a mother, balances MommiNation, a blog, and a business at the same time, and can still be on a show like Central Ave to get on and co-host every week along with the behind the scenes we have to do for the show. That is no easy feat. So when I look at her, I’m like, “Wow, yeah.” When they say women, we are multitaskers. That is absolutely what Sanya Richards-Ross is.
I’m constantly inspired by … When we FaceTime each other random, she’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m sending out these orders.’ She’s balancing a whole business while doing everything else we have to do for the show. So it really is just so dope to see how you can do all of that, how someone can be that great at so many things.
Sanya: Oh wow. That means the world to me. For me, it has been so incredible to stand alongside somebody who’s been in the field for so long. Julissa brings a calm and steady to the set that helps me when I’m super duper nervous and anxious about the show. Julissa’s very reassuring and confident. I love the way Julissa shows up on camera as herself. And that’s something that I really try to emulate. I feel like she is able to always bring a little something to the story, like the way she reads the script and makes it her own with so much confidence has really helped me to be able to try to do the same.
And just off the camera, Julissa’s just so thoughtful. She doesn’t miss a birthday, doesn’t miss a moment to celebrate you. And so I really, really appreciate that as well, but it’s been really, really great. We’ve been thrown a lot of things, especially in this environment, in the COVID environment. And it’s really nice to have somebody who I can call on and she’s like, ‘Yes, do this. Grab this makeup. Do this.’ And she’s allowing me to grow and giving me space to grow. And that means a whole lot to me. So it’s been really awesome to work with Julissa.
TV Goodness: So how significant is it to you that two women of color host an entertainment magazine show?
Julissa: I think it’s super significant. It’s, I mean, now is the time. It’s crazy it hasn’t happened sooner, but we are more than happy to do our best in representing the shoes that we’ve been able to fill now with this void that is now finally getting some recognition and some light. I mean, at the end of the day, we can only continue this if people watch and support and feel seen and heard. So we absolutely know the amount of responsibility that it comes with being able to get on Central Ave every week and tell these stories with being a woman of color and with the immense pressure we may sometimes feel or not feel from the community, because at the end of the day, we still want to be able to be ourselves and bring that uniqueness to the table.
But it just means we have to show up and show out every single week, because we need those numbers. And at the end of the day, it’s still a business. It’s entertainment business, and if we don’t have that support backing us, then it’s going to be harder for this to continue. And when I say this, meaning women of color to continue to be on TV in this capacity.
TV Goodness: Talk about filming during this crazy time in history, the pandemic, the protests, the election. How have you been dealing with all these crazy issues?
Sanya: This has been a really difficult time, I think, for all of us. When you compound everything that’s happened with the Black Lives Matter movements and the pandemic, it’s just been overwhelming at times to try to balance it all. But I think that’s why we say this show is the right show for right now because people need an outlet. People need places where they can go, where they feel seen and heard, where they can learn a little bit more about the stories, but also just have some release. And so I’m excited that, for me, to be able to work on this project has been all of those things has been a great outlet for me to be able to feel normal again, and to feel like a part of the community. And I hope that when people watch it, they feel the same way. They feel this is something fresh and something new and something that makes me feel 2020 isn’t a complete bust and that some exciting things are still happening and that they, too, can continue to go out and achieve their own personal dreams.
TV Goodness: Finally, what has been your favorite show to binge in 2020 and what do you recommend and why?
Sanya: What’s been my favorite show to binge? So I haven’t been watching a lot of TV lately. Like Julissa said, I have a million things on my plate, but last night I stayed up until 2 a.m. and was getting caught up on the Power Ghost series. And I was a huge fan of the first season of Power. And they are not disappointing this season. Mary J. Blige is great and the season has been really, really awesome. So I’m excited about that series and seeing all the other spinoffs that will come from the Power series. And so, yes, that would be the show I’m watching right now.
Julissa: I’m going to say shameless plug. Hunters on Amazon Prime because I’m-Maria on that show. So you guys got to check that out.
Here’s what to expect this weekend on Central Ave:
Interview edited for space and content.
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