Kenya Barris Reveals Why He Left ABC For Netflix
Whew chile! Kenya Barris talked to The Hollywood Reporter and it might be one of the juiciest interviews we’ve read – like ever. Seriously. The drama is so real at ABC/Disney… We really wanted to cut and paste the WHOLE entire article but THR was generous enough to provide some key quotes. Much of the drama centers around ABC’s decision to shelve Barris’ episode about Trump, the NFL protests, and the Charlottesville attacks, but Barris also reveals his clashes with Disney exec Ben Sherwood, his thoughts on “monster” Roseanne Barr, and the anxiety of high expectations with a massive deal at Netflix:
“I don’t know if it’s scary for Ryan and Shonda, but I’m fu**ing terrified.”
Check out excerpts below via THR starting with all the drama over THAT infamous episode. Just for a better idea of what ABC opted to shelve, the episode centered around Johnson family patriarch Dre, played by Anthony Anderson, telling his infant son, Devante, a bedtime story that multiple sources described as a mixture of political allegory via an animated fairy tale about a character named The Shady King, and actual 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.”
The episode budget was increased beyond it’s usual $3 million or so cap to allow room for payments for rights and clearances for music and footage, including Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which Barris personally met with Cooke’s goddaughter to secure. Barris hired a high-profile illustrator and Spike Lee contributed voiceover to the episode took its title (“Please, Baby Please”) and inspiration from a children’s book written by Lee and his wife. Sounds good right? Too bad we’ll never see it.
What actually happened (THR Reporting):
Executives at ABC, more than any other network, have been forthright about their desire for more red-state programming since Trump’s win — and with Barris’ latest episode, they feared they’d be alienating the very population they’d tried so hard to court. That Disney brass wouldn’t want to poke Trump himself just as the company was seeking Justice Department approval of its acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox is widely believed to have been a factor as well.
Anthony Anderson, on ABC’s decision to pull the episode:
“[Barris had] 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. 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, on what went wrong:
“I know there was some concern about partisanship; and the way the episode was angled and the balance in terms of some of the stories. On network TV, one of the things I’ve learned is that you have to talk about things from both sides.”
Barris, on Bob Iger’s handling of the situation:
“The boss doesn’t have to explain himself, but he explained enough — and he [did so] in a way that really gave light in a different way. And more than that, he spoke to me as a person.”
Barris on Ben Sherwood, the man Iger put atop Disney’s TV assets:
“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.”
Barris, on why ABC & Barris mutually decided to scrap it after cuts:
“What it ended up being, and I think the network would agree, was not a true representation of what we intended to do,” he says. “Because if it was, we would’ve shown it.”
Welp… there you have it. Hit the flip for a few more photos and excerpts.