When the news first broke that Black-ish was getting a spinoff that would center on the oldest child in the Johnson family heading off to college, the assumption was that it would air on ABC just like its parent show. But, after some wrangling, the new comedy, Grown-ish, landed at Freeform, and star Yara Shahidi, who plays Zoey Johnson, thinks that was the best outcome.
It's edgier. It's not what we're used to seeing of Zoey or many kids. What I really loved is that it allowed us to relish our youth in a way that isn't usual on network comedies. Because [Freeform is] so aware of their demographic, we were allowed to tell those storylines without so much [interference]. I know the one note we got from ABC --- rightfully so, too --- was, 'Where's the adult presence?' On Freeform, that isn't the case, because it is just so much about our stories as these college students and we're allowed to really revel in it.
According to Yara Shahidi, ABC was more interested in keeping an adult element to the show, whereas Freeform was fully on board with having the show focus on the (sometimes crazy) experiences of the young adults. In short, having the series on Freeform allows the creative team to have the stories told center on Zoey and the rest of the students, instead of splitting its focus between Zoey and her friends and the adult characters present on Grown-ish.
As Shahidi mentioned in her talk with The Hollywood Reporter, Grown-ish is, indeed, a show with more edge than Black-ish. While that series has been known to handle some heavy topics, it tends to do so in a way that feels safe for the audience, and that's largely because the story is told through the eyes of an adult. Grown-ish, however, is pushing the boundaries more on not only what topics are covered (like drug use) but on how those stories will be perceived by the viewers, since everything will be presented through the lens of people who are still essentially kids.
Freeform president Tom Ascheim echoed Shahidi's thoughts by admitting that the network worked with the team on Grown-ish to make sure that the show would stick with the students and their problems.
We serve a different audience. We spent a lot of time working on saying, 'OK, this is a show that fundamentally the young adults are at the center of all of the stories. Even in the spinoff pilot that they produced inside of Black-ish there was just more grown-up time on camera. I think in this one, the students are at the center of the show. It's Zoey's story and there's this other great cast around us that are part of her story.