ABC’s hit comedy black-ish kicked off its eighth and final season on January 4th, but behind-the-scenes, production has already wrapped. Series creator Kenya Barris and showrunner Courntey Lilly recently reunited with stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross for a virtual toast to their success at the TCA press tour. The conversation was full of retrospective anecdotes, discussion about this season’s guest stars, and a forward look at upcoming projects.
“I hoped to accomplish getting a show on the air,” Kenya Barris shared about the original intention for black-ish, which premiered in 2014 and was a rare primetime hit centered around a Black family. “We felt like The Cosby Show happened to be Black, and we wanted to do a show that was absolutely, positively, just outwardly Black. And I think that was something that we felt like we weren't going to be able to do. And so, we were like, ‘If we get on, we'll be lucky to stay on a season, so let's just go for it.’ And one season turned into two, which, now, is into our eighth. I never, in a million years, imagined that it would become what it's become… Any television show, you let it become what it's going to be.”
What black-ish became was not only a touchstone of ABC’s comedy lineup, appealing to a wide range of viewers regardless of race, but also a platform for social awareness that has sparked real change. “I think we covered a lot,” Tracee Ellis Ross reflected on some veryspecial episodes of the series. “I think we probably could have gone another 10 years, and I think that's one of the beautiful things about black-ish and the DNA of the show that Kenya established from the start, and that Courtney was able to pick up, is that this was a show that was character-driven. It was really about this family, it was about the Johnsons, and that means they were navigating the world that we all live in, in a timely way. There's a never-ending amount of topics for us to discuss that are a part of the wallpaper of our lives that we're all trying to make sense of and navigate. And I think we did that incredibly beautifully in the topics that we covered, from Juneteenth, to police brutality, to postpartum depression, to just being a family, we did incredibly well. I feel like we leave with a whole bunch of joy and pride about how we handled everything.”
“We wanted to really celebrate,” showrunner and executive producer Courtney Lilly shared about the show’s victory lap. “I think one of the things that will happen with this show is, in the future, regardless of whatever happens politically, or economically, or socially, as a show that commented on these things, it wouldn't surprise me that in a few years, people sit there and go, ‘Oh, I wonder how black-ish would have handled this.’” Having had so many milestone moments, when ABC announced that this would be the final season, a lot of celebrities realized it was now or never to have a cameo. “It's a show that people watch with their families, and they're proud to be able to sit there and be, like, ‘Hey, I'm on black-ish,’ watching a show with their kids, and it will last for a long time of streaming and syndication. So people leapt at the opportunity because of the work we've done.”
The season premiere featured former first lady Michelle Obama, who is friends with Tracee Ellis Ross. “You came up with a great idea that I thought was very worthy of bringing to Michelle,” Tracee said to Courtney when he tried to play it off like he had no part to play in booking a hard-to-get name. “ I'm sure there's also a lot of TV writers that would love to come up with a great idea for us to call on Mrs. Obama, and they don't have the in,” Courtney replied. “It's just how this stuff works. Like Magic Johnson, we were doing an episode with the Lakers that we were really excited about, and Anthony was our hookup for that; getting us into the practice facility and knowing everybody. Tracee and Anthony, essentially, know everybody.”
While black-ish has had some pretty incredible guest stars throughout its run, there have also been some Hollywood legends that simply wanted to see it in action without appearing on screen. “Rest in peace, Mr. Sidney Poitier, and all that he did,” Kenya Barris revealed. “It was very interesting to see people who would stop by, from Sidney Poitier, to Dick Gregory, to Kendrick Lamar, and you guys had Michelle. It was such an interesting thing, that people embraced it, and began to embrace it more and more as it went by. Even if it was just stopping by, it meant so much to be able to say that that was something that meant something to people who we looked up to, and as our heroes, and things like that, that would stop by the show and be a part of it. So, it was amazing.”
“It's an exciting moment in time for me,” Anthony Anderson shared about this turning point in his career. “To be closing one chapter of my life that has been black-ish for the last eight seasons, changed my life and my career dramatically.” He is returning to Law & Order on NBC and also has an animated project in the works about his life called Just a Kid from Comptom for Apple TV+. “I have Hair Tales for OWN and Hulu, that is a docu-series about Black women told through the portal of hair,” Tracee Ellis Ross revealed about what’s next for her. “And then Jodie in pre-production,” she added about the MTV Daria spin-off series that she’s voicing and executive producing.
“I would hope that we are able to do many things in the future,” Kenya Barris shared about the possibility of seeing characters from black-ish in future projects, such as the Freeform hit spin-off grown-ish and the in-development series old-ish. “There's a lot of changes, and things going on, but I definitely feel like Anthony and Tracee and everyone else changed my life and each other's lives… I hadn't been around for a few months, and I got to go and see the table read for the last episode, and I was always quick to cry, and then, start again. It's a family, so I would love to see them come back and be a part of it and be a part of whatever they choose to do.”
You can see the farewell season of black-ish on Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30c on ABC. New episodes stream the next day on Hulu, where you can also binge the entire series.