ABC‘s new comedy series Black-ish “celebrates black more as a culture than a race,” executive producer Larry Wilmore told TV critics this afternoon at Summer TV Press Tour 2014. “At heart it’s a family show,” he said, about a father who feels he has maybe given his kids too much and, in the process, that they’ve lost some of their heritage.
“The show is about a black family – not about a family that happens to be black,” creator Kenya Barris explained, but the issues would also be relevant if the characters were Jewish, Latino, Asian, etc. Anthony Anderson stars as an upper-middle-class man who struggles to raise his children with a sense of cultural identity despite constant contradictions and obstacles from his liberal wife, old-school father and his own assimilated, color-blind kids.
“It’s not something we’re running from, but we feel like, honestly, we are living in a post-racial Obama society where race and culture are talked about less than ever,” Barris said, suggesting “urban” singers Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber are “black-ish.”
“Obama…is the first black-ish president,” Wilmore added, noting the president’s mixed heritage. “I’m just making a point,” he joked.
“Will we ever see overt racism on the series?” wondered one TV critic.
“We save that for behind the scenes,” snarked Wilmore.
Class, Wilmore insisted, “is a great topic… for families that have ‘arrived,’ no matter what the culture is. It may be more of an issue than race.” Earlier in the day, ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee said virtually the same thing of the ethnically diverse programs on his new slate, including Black-ish. “It’s as much about culture as it is about race. …The specificity and creativity and originality of those shows makes them relatable,” Lee said.
More practically thinking, Wilmore is hoping he gets to finish the first 12 episodes of Black-ish, on which he is exec producer, before September, when he begins work on his new Comedy Central late-night series, The Minority Report, after which, he said, his role on the ABC show will be “visible cheerleader.” And Laurence Fishburne, who is exec producer and plays Pops Johnson on the ABC series, will continue to work on Hannibal as well. “It’s not a problem,” he said.
According to the Black-ish panelists, when they asked about using the show name, Lee responded with a very enthusiastic “Absolutely!” Earlier in the day, Lee dismissed a TV critic’s suggestion Black-ish might turn off some viewers, saying he likes show names that “capture the imagination” and grab attention. He added, “Come back to me in six months and tell me if I was wrong.”
At ABC’s Upfront presentation in May, Jimmy Kimmel singled out Black-ish, during his new-schedule roast. “I don’t know about you, but my favorite part of Upfronts was Paul Lee saying Black-ish. Paul saying Black-ish is the ‘white-ish’ thing I’ve ever heard.” A true off-color joke.