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As the creator of ABC's hit comedy black-ish (and its Freeform spinoff), Kenya Barris has been a major factor in the network's diverse comedy lineup. But things apparently haven't been going so smoothly, and Barris is reportedly seeking to exit his overall development deal with ABC Studios. And he might just be thinking about a more lucrative position at Netflix, similar to Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes' recent deal.
Let's break this situation down a bit. Kenya Barris, who recently wrote the super-successful comedy Girls Trip, has been linked up with ABC Studios ever since the overall deal came together in 2015, at which point black-ish was just a year into its still-successful run. Since then, ABC hasn't gone through with ordering any of the projects that Barris has developed, and the network's recent decision to pull a politically charged black-ish episode from the schedule likely hasn't helped to maintain Barris' confidence in the partnership. According to THR, the TV vet is actively trying to find a way to bring that development deal to a premature end, and it's said that there are "very real" talks being had about Barris jumping over to Netflix to develop new projects.
None of this has been confirmed at this point, but Kenya Barris signing a multi-year contract with Netflix isn't a strange concept. He's currently putting the next generation of Shaft films together at the streaming giant as part of a mega-deal it crafted with New Line. And Netflix execs have shown how (financially) invested they are in drafting top TV talent, with Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes arguably being the biggest catches so far. Considering how many different projects Barris is capable of simultaneously working on at any given time, Netflix probably wouldn't be lacking for big pitches to consider, either.
In the past few years, Kenya Barris has had 4 different ABC projects in contention for pick-up, with varying degrees of success and failure. The black-ish spinoff grown-ish was originally set up at ABC before being passed over to Freeform. The politically angled family comedy Libby and Malcolm had the star power of Felicity Huffman and Courtney B. Vance and a story of people falling in love across party lines, but it didn't move forward. Then there was Unit Zero, which saw Toni Collette as a determined woman working within the male-dominated CIA; ABC passed. And though it looked like Barris' luck changed when the network put in a straight-to-series order for a family comedy with Alec Baldwin attached, the project fell apart when Baldwin vacated it, and it hasn't made much forward momentum since.
ABC has yet to renew black-ish, though the comedy isn't in any obvious trouble, and it hasn't issued out renewals for most of its veteran series. And while it's obvious that the claims above could be overstated and unreliable, it'll be interesting to see how Barris handles things when the renewal orders are announced. Here's hoping he won't leave behind his biggest primetime hit.