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The Latest Approach to Pandemic TV: An Animated 'black-ish'
October 4, 2020  | By Mike Hughes
 


Fear can be a great motivator, we're told. And now it's giving us a primetime, animated special.

That special is the second of two black-ish specials that will follow basketball (at about 10 and 10:30 p.m. ET) Sunday on ABC. The idea came when black-ish found itself off the fall schedule.

"We were trying to figure out a way to still have a presence, especially in an election year," producer Kenya Barris said in a virtual session this week with the Television Critics Association (TCA).

An election-themed special would be good, people agreed except for one problem. "I was not ready," said Tracee Ellis Ross, one of the stars. "(I was) terrified to go back to work and be on a set."

The show had previously done some quirky bits of animation, so she suggested doing the entire half-hour that way. Barris agreed. "My mentor, Norman Lear…helped us find the animation studio."

Lear, 98, is known for All in the Family, but he's now producing the One Day at a Time reboot. When COVID struck, that show still had a topical episode it wanted to shoot; it went with animation.

That's the approach black-ish took with its two election specials: One – Junior disappears from the voter rolls – was taped in the usual way, except for brief bursts of animation and fantasy; the other – a fanciful detour, with Dre's boss using his riches to run for office – is entirely animated.

Both specials take sharp – and sometimes quite funny – jabs at the electoral process. And for a time, it looked like they would be Barris' only shots for a while: ABC's new-season schedule was going to delay black-ish and its prequel (mixed-ish) until mid-season.

Then news events exploded. In a political year – and a Black-lives-matter year – two topical, Black-themed shows would be on the sidelines.

What followed, said Anthony Anderson (the show's producer and star) was "all of the screaming we did on the phone."

Adds Laurence Fishburne, who plays his dad: "Yeah, we were vocal. We all were kind of astonished."

Network bosses agreed, Ross said. "They made a solid pivot."

So, now black-ish has its specials on October 4, and its new season, October 21, and its two spin-offs (mixed-ish and grown-ish on Freeform), both returning sometime this season. And maybe another spin-off.

That's old-ish, which would be about Dre's parents (Fishburne and Jenifer Lewis). "Everyone's been wanting to see Pops and Ruby together," Barris said, "because they're basically together anyway…. It's the weirdest divorce I've ever seen."

They're part of an expanding universe of "-ish" characters, live or (for one special) animated.

 
 
 
 
 
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