Black-ish creator Kenya Barris has finally spoken out about ABC’s decision to shelve an episode that explored the NFL kneeling controversy.
The Emmy-nominated showrunner says when he sat down last fall to write an episode titled “Please, Baby, Please,” he had a sense it might ruffle quite a few feathers.
The setup was relatively simple: Dre, the Johnson family patriarch played by Anthony Anderson, was telling his infant son, Devante, a bedtime story that reflected on the events of his first year on the planet. It was, per multiple sources, a mix of political allegory (an animated fairy tale about a character named The Shady King) and actuality (news footage of Donald Trump, the Charlottesville attacks and the NFL kneeling protests).
When you’re putting a baby to sleep, you’re trying to soothe whatever anxieties they’re having,” says Barris, speaking for the first time about the controversial episode. “So, this was about me trying to pat the butt of the country and soothe people.”
Rather than focus on the entire Johnson clan, the episode centered on Dre and his interpretation of real-world events presented to his son as a form of catharsis, the report states.
We approached it with the network and the studio as, ‘This is different,’” he says. “We certainly knew people would talk about it.”
But days before its scheduled Feb. 27 air date, “Please, Baby, Please” was mysteriously and indefinitely shelved.
Tracee Ellis Ross has called the decision “frightening.”
“He’d given his blood, sweat and tears to [the episode], which they had signed off on every step of the way — from the outline, to the script, to the table read, to the point where they actually spent the money and made the episode,” says Anderson, who’s also an executive producer. “And I don’t know what those conversations were, but we entered into this partnership with the understanding that we would be able to tell the stories that we wanted to tell.”
Barris had less than favorable remarks about Disney/ABC TV Group president Ben Sherwood, who, along with other ABC executives, were pushing to court more conservative viewers in the wake of Trump’s electoral victory. So the anti-Trump episode didn’t really receive the support he needed.
“The way that [Ben] chose to deal with me in this particular episode, I felt a way about it and I still do. He’d make it seem like it was an open environment but really it wasn’t, and those are things I see very clearly. Everyone wants to say it’s open arms, but just tell me it’s not and I’ll respect you more.”
At ABC’s urging, Barris had his editor test a few of the suggested cuts — but it wasn’t enough. Ultimately the decision was made to shelve the episode and by mid-August, Barris had exited ABC Studios and entered into an agreement with Netflix for a deal said to be in the high eight figures.
PHOTO: PR Photos
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