‘Black-ish’ creator explains exit from ABC after they shelved an anti-Trump episode
In the wake of ABC pulling an anti-Trump episode of his popular sitcom after openly courting Trump voters with the reboot of Roseanne, Black-ish creator Kenya Barris found himself thinking about departing from the network.
Barris, a 44 year-old showrunner, likely expected that the now shelved episode titled “Please Baby Please” would have stirred up some controversy, but not that it would be held by ABC in a vault doomed never to be seen by the public.
In a new interview with Hollywood Reporter, Barris discusses how the episode, Dre (Anthony Anderson) opens by telling his son a story about the events of the first year of his son’s life, a mixture of political allegory with an animated fairy tale, using live footage of Trump, Charlottesville, and NFL protests.
Barris even secured the rights and clearances to use Sam Cooke’s timeless ballad “A Change Is Gonna Come” after taking great lengths to meet with Cooke’s granddaughter. He planned to have Spike Lee do the voice over during the animated storytelling portion.
Days before the show was scheduled to air on ABC, the episode was cancelled, and Barris was left to contemplate his future with ABC and Disney. Tracee Ellis Ross called ABC’s decision about the episode “frightening,” and Anderson defended Barris, saying, “He’s given his blood, sweat and tears [to the episode], which they (ABC) had signed off on every step of the way-from the outline, to the script, to the table read, to the point where they actually spent the money and made the episode.”
In fact, Barris explains he had a conversation with CEO Bob Iger, who attempted to reason with Barris about not provoking Donald Trump’s ire against the network, because at the time Disney was in talks to buy 20th Century Fox which would require government approval.
Barris’ show was also slotted behind Roseanne, which he explains set him off “because fuck Roseanne, she’s a fucking monster. And they were like, ‘Why is this monster killing villagers?’ And I was like, ‘Because that’s what a monster does.'”
Both Netflix and Warner Bros. came calling once it was clear that Barris’ services were on the market, but now wary of the political limitations of network TV, he chose to go to Netflix. “It was the hardest decision for financial reasons because it was an amazing, generous offer, but if I was leaving ABC to go to Warner Bros. I feared I might be dancing to the same [song].”
Barris credits Shonda Rhimes, who previously inked a deal with the streaming giant, with encouraging him to make the jump. “I’m doing what I’m doing because of her (Rhimes). She’s a Black writer but she wrote shows and that opened up the door for the types of things I wanted to do… And for someone who was that successful at network TV for that long to make that move [to Netflix] made me understand the atrophy that can happen.”