As Black-ish returns tonight for its fifth season, creator Kenya Barris is no longer overseeing the hit ABC comedy. While he remains as an executive producer, Barris has stepped away from his day-to-day duties on the comedy to focus on the new megadeal that he signed with Netflix in August.
Barris, who was just named Nitro-Net’s TV Creator of the Year, said in this week’s Hot List issue that he decision to leave longtime home ABC Studios for Netflix “came 100 percent down to creative freedom,” noting that chief content officer Ted Sarandos and vp of original series Cindy Holland “were looking for people who could execute shows at a high level and had something that they wanted to say, and that’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted the opportunity to have something to say, have the support of my backer, financially, and at the same time, have some freedom in doing it.”
Exiting broadcast TV for Netflix was “very daunting,” said Barris. He was “bothered” that the deal’s terms—it could be worth as much as $100 million—were made public, which he said “puts pressures in a way that are counterintuitive to creativity.”
But Barris, who said he’s “one of those guys who is fueled by my fear,” seems to have had no problems with writers block so far. He’s already getting down to business at his new home, developing several potential TV projects for the streaming service.
One of the first shows, he said, will be a “flipped-on-your head version of what a family show is,” which he’ll work on with a partner.
“I’ll take the experiences I’ve learned while doing Black-ish and say, how I can revamp and it a little bit edgier [and at] an elevated level?”
-Black-ish creator Kenya Barris on his new project
“I’ll take the experiences I’ve learned while doing Black-ish and say, how I can revamp and it a little bit edgier [and at] an elevated level?” Barris explained. “I think the best way to do that is embrace the honesty and dysfunction of how raising a family is, especially in my particular family. Often, we’re taught to run from that, but I feel like the best moments of parenting from him have come from the idea that I really don’t know what I’m doing, but [that] I’m going to try to do the best that I can.”
He added that when thinking about our own parents, we “learn more sometimes from their mistakes than we did from the lessons they tried to give us.”
Barris is also working on series adaptations of some books he’s optioned, including Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, as well as a documentary that’s “based off one of my favorite moments in life,” he said.
The creator said one of the things he’s most excited about at Netflix is potentially working on a stand-up special with Black-ish and Grown-ish actor Deon Cole. “I’ve gotten to be friends with Dave Chappelle, who is one of my idols, and seeing his evolution in this particular medium is interesting,” he said. “I’m looking forward to how I can be a part of reinventing what comedy has been and bringing it what I think it’s going to be in the next five years.”
“I’m looking forward to how I can be a part of reinventing what comedy has been and bringing it what I think it’s going to be in the next five years.”
Even though he no longer has to worry about advertisers at Netflix, Barris—who made Black-ish’s Dre (Anthony Anderson) an ad exec in part because that job would lend itself to organic integrations—said he wants to keep working with brands at his new home.
“It adds a bit of verisimilitude to the world to see I’m drinking Coke. It makes the show seem like more of an honest version of a voice than something you’re watching on television with a covered-up can,” said Barris, who plans on giving those partnerships a twist as well. “I might point a finger at it in a way that I wouldn’t have done on network television.”
Ultimately, “I want to put as much money on the screen as possible, and I’ve always had a really good relationship with advertisers,” said Barris. “If I need a helicopter drop and Red Bull has a helicopter drop, I don’t think anyone would be opposed to Red Bull helping out on that if it scratched their back while it was scratching mine.”