Kenya Barris is the biggest comedy creator in the ABC-Disney family with three series on the air, Black-ish, heading into its fifths season on ABC, as well as spinoff Grown-ish and newly picked up Besties on sister cable network Freeform, and a pilot, Bright Futures, still in contention at NBC.
Behind-the-scenes, there has been growing tension, which escalated after ABC’s decision earlier this season to pull a politically charged episode of Black-ish and there has been speculation that Barris, who is under a multi-year deal at ABC Studios, is looking to end his pact early.
During the ABC upfront press call on Tuesday, the network’s entertainment president Channing Dungey, was asked to address both Barris’ status at ABC Studios and the controversial episode, which was co-written and directed by Barris.
Dungey, who oversees the network but not the studio, declined to comment on Barris’ ABC Studios deal as it its not within her purview. But she was happy to talk about the network’s relationship with the writer-producer.
“We are thrilled and excited to be moving into the fifth season of Black-ish,” Dungey said. “We have loved working with Kenya and would love to continue.” She indicated that Barris may have a new project at the broadcast network, saying that “we are working on future business.”
This pilot season, Barris had a couple of scripts in development at ABC that did not go to pilot, with one of them, Bright Futures, landing a pilot order at NBC.
As for the pulled Black-ish episode, Please, Baby, Please, which is said to have touched on a number of hot-button issues, including the debate over athletes who kneel during the national anthem at football games, here is what Dungey said:
“We’ve long been supportive of Kenya and his team tackling challenging and controversial issues in the show; and we’ve always, traditionally, been able to come to a place creatively where we felt good about the story that he was telling even if it felt like it was pushing some hot buttons.”
“With this particular episode, there were a number of different elements to the episode that we had a hard time coming to terms on. Much has been made about the kneeling part of it, which was not even really the issue, but I don’t want to get into that. At the end of the day, this was a mutual decision between Kenya and the network to not put the episode out.”