‘Black-ish’ Cast Talks Societal Upheaval and the Show’s Infamous Unaired Episode

Creator Kenya Barris and cast spoke at ABC's VirtuFall Panel Series highlighting the network's upcoming programming.
"Black-ish" at ABC's VirtuFall presentation.

When ABC was prepping its new fall season, one show that almost didn’t make the cut was the Kenya Barris-created “Black-ish.” The series was greenlit for a seventh season, but the arrival of the global pandemic left many wondering if the show might be held for a midseason release in 2021.

But Barris, who participated in ABC’s virtual presentation Tuesday on its fall slate, said the series “needed to voice our opinion” about what was going on in the world and was vitally important to return as soon as it was safe. “It would be doing a disservice to our audience … to have our voices muted in a time like this,” said star Anthony Anderson. Holding on until midseason would have been “problematic” for Anderson.

Eventually the show was able to please everyone — and then some. The show will return in the fall, but also will debut an election special, set to air on October 4, as well as an animated episode.

“The animation idea came out of my idea to stay safe from COVID,” says star Tracee Ellis Ross, who admitted she was terrified to return to set. “We did not know what COVID would bring — but [animation] protected us.” The team wanted to figure out a way to get back to work quickly, and since animation was already utilized on the series, it made sense. Fellow showrunner Norman Lear helped Barris find the animation studio used in the episode, not surprising considering Lear’s show, “One Day At a Time” also employed animation for its own election special earlier this year. (And be sure to look out for Barris himself, who takes on an acting role in the special.)

The presentation eventually turned towards the recently unearthed 2018 episode of “Black-ish,” entitled “Please, Baby, Please” that dropped on Hulu in August. The episode was famously prevented from airing last year amidst rumors that its content — where Anderson’s character gives a running commentary on the state of the world to his baby son — was too controversial for the network.

When asked about the episode eventually landing on Hulu, Barris said: “There’s a lot that went into that…the ABC family, we have definitely grown to be a family over the years.” Barris said he always hoped the episode eventually would be aired, and that the timing seemed to be right given the state of the world. The release of the episode occurred “in the same way that this special came out to be; they are very, very receptive…to hearing our voices,” he said.

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