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'Blackish' stars pressured ABC to bring comedy back early

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Tracee Ellis Ross said she fought for "black-ish" to air on ABC in the fall. File Photo by Chris Chew/UPI
Tracee Ellis Ross said she fought for "black-ish" to air on ABC in the fall. File Photo by Chris Chew/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- ABC originally planned to air Season 7 of black-ish in spring 2021, but the cast of the show, including Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson, and creator Kenya Barris, fought for black-ish to air this fall.

Season 7 officially begins Oct. 21, but an election special will air Sunday. Barris said the special was in the works before ABC agreed in June to put the show back on the fall schedule.

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"We were trying to figure out a way to still have a presence, especially in an election year," Barris said on a recent Television Critics Association panel. "We didn't know if we could be on."

The election special will be partially animated, with the black-ish cast voicing likenesses of their characters. Anthony Anderson plays Andre Johnson, a father whose family lives in a mostly White, middle-class community.

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The six seasons of black-ish have found humor and poignancy in the Johnson family's struggles to stay connected with their Black culture. The hourlong election episode centers around Andre's son, Junior (Marcus Scribner), who is now over 18, but finds his voter registration purged.

Ross, who plays Junior's mother, Rainbow, suggested animation early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Ross said she spoke with ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke about ways to produce a show before COVID-19 safety protocols were finalized.

"I was not ready to go back to work and be on a set," Ross said.

The show has previously run an animated segment satirizing Schoolhouse Rock cartoons to illustrate historic events.

"I thought, we do such wonderful animation on our show already," Ross said. "Would there be a way for us to do an episode that was animated?"

ABC agreed June 18 to include black-ish in the network's fall lineup. The show resumed live-action production under COVID-19 safety protocols at the end of the summer. However, they still moved forward with the animated special.

"The special was still just as important," Barris said.

Barris said he hopes the election episode will encourage viewers to vote. The animated episode also will feature Barris voicing a character whom he says resembles his likeness.

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"I just looked at that character, and I'm like, 'I've had a rough road, guys.'" Barris said.

The cast members said they had separate conversations with ABC in June. Anderson said he impressed upon executives that the election season, following the beginning of Black Lives Matter protests in May, was exactly the world in which black-ish should air.

"I felt that it would be doing a disservice to our audience, a disservice to the community and a disservice to our show to have our voices muted in a time like this," he said.

Black-ish has produced episodes addressing the Juneteenth holiday, the impact of Donald Trump's presidency and issues present in the Black community. Barris felt the 2020 election season would provide more topics for the show to address with humor.

"We felt like, during this time in particular, the show would be unusually but importantly necessary," Barris said. "We felt that we needed to voice our opinion to ABC who also shared in that opinion."

Barris added that ABC initially decided to hold black-ish until Spring before the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent protests. Ross also credited Burke and ABC for listening to her and her cast mates' ideas for bringing the show back in the fall.

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"People speak up, and then they make a change," Ross said. "I think there's a lot to be said when somebody makes a choice and then realizes it wasn't the right one and changes course."

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