Kenya Barris Talks Leaving ABC Studios Deal, Pulled “black-ish” Episode with THR

Producer Kenya Barris, is wrapping up his time at ABC and heading over to Netflix where he he says he’s excited to have more control over the content he creates. In a recent exclusive for The Hollywood Reporter, Lacey Rose delves into Barris’ past experiences and why he chose to leave Disney.

  • Black-ish is about to start its fifth season and, while most of the creative team remains, creator Kenya Barris won’t be returning.
  • In July, it was announced that Barris was leaving his overall deal with ABC Studios just one year into his four year contract.
  • Prior to that departure, Barris and ABC made headlines when an episode of black-ish titled “Please, Baby, Please” was pulled from the network schedule.
  • In the episode, Dre Johnson would be trying to soothe his son, Devante, and get him to go to sleep. During the storytelling, Dre would recap the first year of his son’s life with a story about the state of affairs in our country. Part of the tale was allegory, part actuality.
  • The episode was reportedly approved during several stages and even fully filmed before it was pulled by the network.
  • According to Barris, Disney CEO Bob Iger called to talk about the political climate of running a network in 2018 and the company’s efforts to court viewers of all political stripes.
  • While the two parties attempted to reach a resolution, Barris was ultimately unhappy with the network-approved cut and both sides agreed not to air it.

Beyond black-ish

  • 2017 wasn’t smoothing sailing for the black-ish creator. Along with “Please, Baby, Please” being pulled, Barris has pitched other projects to ABC that didn’t move forward. Among these were:
    • A comedy pilot titled Libby & Malcolm starring Felicity Huffman and Courtney B. Vance as an interracial couple of two political pundits on opposite ends of the spectrum.
    • Another pilot starring Toni Collette that was to be a dramadey
    • While the spinoff Grown-ish did get the green light, it would air on Freeform and not ABC
  • Along with those rejections Black-ish was also moved from its time slot behind Modern Family adding insult to injury.

(Photo by Earl Gibson III/WireImage)

In his words:

  • His inspiration for “Please, Baby, Please”: “When you’re putting a baby to sleep, you’re trying to soothe whatever anxieties they’re having. So, this was about me trying to pat the butt of the country and soothe people.”
  • On why the episode was pulled: “I know there was some concern about partisanship and the way the episode was angled and the balance in terms of some of the stories. On network TV, one of the things I’ve learned is that you have to talk about things from both sides.”
  • On his discussion with Bob Iger regarding the episode: “The boss doesn’t have to explain himself, but he explained enough — and he [did so] in a way that really gave light in a different way. And more than that, he spoke to me as a person.”
  • His thought process about leaving ABC: “If I was going to step out, I wanted to do something where I could take off all the straps and really hang out of the plane. I want to be Netflix with attitude — loud, bold and unapologetic.”

For the full story, and what his future holds, please check out The Hollywood Reporter’s extensive interview with Kenya Barris. Note: The interview contains adult language that is printed as spoken.