“I think we’re still figuring it out,” says “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris about the evolution of the ABC sitcom. “Television shows are like babies. You raise them and expect them to be something, but then you kind of start changing and they become what they’re going to be … I think that’s the great thing about family shows is that you grow with the family.” (Watch our complete video chat below.)
“Black-ish,” which is loosely based on Barris’s life, follows the Johnson family: Andre (Anthony Anderson), an ad executive; Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), a doctor; and their four children. Andre, now living an affluent lifestyle, worries his kids have grown up disconnected from their racial heritage.
“I have to give ABC, the studio and the network credit,” says executive producer Jonathan Groff of being able to tackle issues of race and class in the family sitcom. “There were times where they actually pushed us to make sure we had that element in every episode.” Adds Barris, “Once the show actually presented itself … they started saying, you know what, actually we want to lean more into this, and that’s what our signature has become.”
The series ended its first season on May 20 with a special episode directed by Groff and set during the Harlem Renaissance, which Barris considers “one of the most important contemporary periods of any culture.” It’s one of his favorite episodes, in part because he’s “a big fan of those old-time finales where you did something different, and we went back to that.”
Considering the significance of that episode, Barris explains, “A lot of black culture is pretty contemporary if you really think about it. It really only starts when we came here because a lot of it before we were brought here was lost, and even a lot of it here was really disjointed. A lot of the culture we have comes from an … oral history, and with any oral history, there is some game of telephone involved.”
Groff adds about shooting the stylish episode, “One thing we did different was spend a lot of ABC’s money, like an unprecedented amount of their money.”
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