Kenya Barris Exits Overall Deal With ABC Studios, Eyes Big Netflix Pact

photo: Megan Miller

It’s a done deal — ABC Studios’ most prolific comedy creator Kenya Barris, is leaving his overall pact at the studio a little over a year into the four-year term. No one is confirming but I have learned that he is getting a rich pact at Netflix.

Barris’ overall deal with ABC Studios will terminate in August. He will remain an executive producer on all of his shows, black-ish on ABC; grown-ish and the upcoming Besties on Freeform, and will continue to work on the ABC Studios projects he has in development.

Barris’ exit comes less than year after ABC Studios’ most prolific drama creator, Shona Rhimes, left for a mega deal at Netflix.

Following Barris’ departure from the studio, black-ish co-showrunner Jonathan Groff will run the series with the series’ co-executive producer Kenny Smith, who is being promoted to executive producer and co-showrunner. Julie Bean continues to run grown-ish. Groff, Smith and Bean all have overall deals with ABC Studios, which is run by Patrick Moran.

“I’m very grateful to Patrick Moran and his team at ABC Studios, who have supported me every step of the way as I created the worlds of black-ish, grown-ish, and now Besties. It has been an incredible ride including a Peabody and Golden Globe win, Emmy nominations, and many other accolades. But most importantly, they’ve allowed me to realize my dream of creating my own shows and I’m so proud of the work we’ve done together,” Barris said. “No matter what, the studio has never wavered in their support of my creative vision. Leaving is bittersweet, but between my series on the air and projects currently in development, I know I’ll continue to work with ABC Studios for a long time.”

The reasons behind Barris’ exit from ABC Studios are complex. According to sources, there has been growing frustration with ABC, which did not pick up to series any of Barris’ pilots since black-ish, didn’t even make a pilot for the comedy with a straight-to-series order he had at the network this past development cycle, and last year moved black-ish away from its cushy post-Modern Family slot.

And then there was the controversial black-ish episode, which ABC pulled from air at the last minute this past spring. It was that incident that reportedly set the wheels in motion for Barris departure at the studio. I hear he met with Netflix, which was interested in bringing him on board if available. Word is the giant fee the streaming giant was willing to pay, believed to be in the nine-figure range — was hard to match.

Barris would be the third top creator Netflix network has lured away from traditional TV with a mega pact, following Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, who recently left 20th Century Fox TV.

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