‘All American’ Boss on How She Brought Back Taye Diggs’ Billy Baker and Hopes for Future Seasons While Awaiting Season 7 Renewal

SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers from “Kids See Ghosts,” the May 20 episode of The CW’s “All American.”

Billy Baker lives on… ish. Taye Diggs’ character, who died in a bus accident midway through Season 5 of the drama, returned to “All American” during the May 20 episode.

More from Variety

At the beginning of the Season 6 episode, Olivia (Samantha Logan) struggled to finish her book about Billy, her late father, as Jordan (Michael Evans Behling) found himself at a crossroads about his possible future in the NFL. Meanwhile, Spencer (Daniel Ezra) realized he had much more going for himself than football when a young high school player asked for his help. Recognizing how much they needed their father — or father figure, in Spencer’s case — Laura (Monet Mazur) decided to give her kids letters that Billy had written for them to open when they graduated college. And she gave Spencer Billy’s journal, the one he wrote in when Spencer first came to live with the Baker family.

Throughout the episode, each of the kids read Billy’s words — written when they were only babies, for Olivia and Jordan — and saw how much his messages affected their lives now. Diggs appeared in multiple scenes, enacting what Billy had written, as Olivia, Jordan and Spencer read his words. The episode ended with Laura talking to her late husband while he sat beside her in bed.

The return of Billy was “always” planned, showrunner Nkechi Okoro Carroll tells Variety. “Before Taye left, I made him promise that if I called, he would come back. And to Taye’s credit, from minute one, he was like, ‘Anytime you call, I am there. Whatever you need,'” she says. “I always knew there was no way we were never going to see Billy Baker again.”

It was also a personal storyline for Carroll, whose father died when she was in her early 20s. Additionally, she says, there are “a disproportionate number” of writers and crew members who had lost their fathers early in life, and she wanted to honor anyone “who’s had to say goodbye to their parents a little earlier than they should.”

“When we all used to talk about our personal experiences, all of us sort of had the same moment of ‘I still talk to my dad,’ or ‘I found a letter of my dad’s and it triggered this conversation,'” Carroll says. “There was always something. It was never just over for any of us when our fathers passed, and so we really wanted to honor the truth of that moment. I knew I wanted to do something where the important people in Billy’s life were having a conversation with him without realizing they were having a conversation with him.

“And then doing something distinct for Laura, because she talks to Billy every day anyway,” she continues. “She doesn’t need a journal. She doesn’t need a letter, because he’s always with her. That’s sort of what that final moment represented. He’s still there co-parenting the kids, to get them through these tough moments.”

The episode also featured Layla (Great Onieogou) continuing to cope with her depression and, in therapy, seeing her late mother again — except in her vision, it was her as her mother. While the storyline could have worked at any point in the season, it organically ended up in this episode.

“As we were dealing with ghosts from the past and legacies, and the hold our parents have on us and how much they shape us for good or for bad, it felt right that this storyline should come to a head this way for Layla in the same episode,” Carroll says. “We were dealing with the return of Billy, and not even as a ghost — but almost the lasting memory of Billy, and the last message he had for his kids.”

While The CW has not yet renewed the drama for a Season 7, and it seems that many storylines could be wrapping up — Jordan and Spencer could go to the NFL, Olivia could move to London, etc. — if it were up to Carroll, she has “so many stories to tell.”

“We took them through their teen years, we’ve taken them through their college transition years. After that comes catapulting them from young adulthood into what I like to call quarter-life crisis, which is always a fun time and very high stakes,” she says. “The network and the studio will make the decisions they make, in terms of when they feel this story is ready to come to an end. We are constantly ready to continue to grow these characters and pivot them.”

One thing viewers would really like to see is Layla and Jordan get married — but with the wedding pushed until she feels ready, that would have to mean a time jump were it to take place this season. Carroll makes it sound like that possibility isn’t out of the question.

“We did a time jump at the beginning of the season, not because we wanted to leap over college years, but organically for the story, it made sense,” she says. “So we continue to make our storytelling decisions from that place. If a time jump helps us tell the most organic version of the story, then we will absolutely do that. And if it’s more of a day-to-day, then we’re not afraid to do that either.

“Both have worked so well with these characters on this show that we’re just constantly on the ride with them. And that is my way of not giving away any spoilers.”

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.