Fear can be a great motivator, we’re told. And now it’s giving us a primetime, animated special (shown here).
That’s the second of two “Black-ish” specials that will follow basketball (at about 10 and 10:30 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC. The idea came when “Black-ish” found itself off the fall schedule.
“We were trying to figure out a way to still have a presence, especially in an election year,” producer Kenya Barris said, in a virtual session this week with the Television Critics Association.
An election-themed special would be good, people agreed … except for one problem. “I was not ready,” said Tracee Ellis Ross, one of the stars. “(I was) terrified to go back to work and be on a set.”
The show had previously done some quirky bits of animation, so she suggested doing the entire half-hour that way. Barris agreed. “My mentor, Norman Lear … helped us find the animation studio.”
Lear, 98, is known for “All in the Family,” but he’s now producing the “One Day at a Time” reboot. When COVID struck, that show still had a topical episode it wanted to shoot; it went with animation.
That’s the approach “Blackish” took with its two election specials: One – Junior disappears from the voter rolls – was taped in the usual way, except for brief bursts of animation and fantasy; the other – a fanciful detour, with Dre’s boss using his riches to run for office – is entirely animated.
Both specials take sharp – and sometimes quite funny – jabs at the electoral process. And for a time, it looked like they would be Barris’ only shots for a while: ABC’s new-season schedule was going to delay “Black-ish” and its prequel (“Mixed-ish”) until mid-season.
Then news events exploded. In a political year – and a Black-lives-matter year – two topical, Black-themed shows would be on the sidelines.
What followed, said Anthony Anderson (the show’s producer and star. shown here in animated form, videochattig with Stacey Abrams) was “all of the screaming we did on the phone.”
Adds Laurence Fishburne, who plays his dad: “Yeah, we were vocal. We all were kind of astonished.”
Network bosses agreed, Ross said. “They made a solid pivot.”
So now “Black-ish” has its specials (Oct. 4) … and its new season (Oct. 21, with an election/Halloween episode a week later) … and its two spin-offs (“Mixed-ish” and cable’s “Grown-ish”), both returning sometime this season … and maybe another spin-off.
That’s “Old-ish,” which would be about Dre’s parents (Fishburne and Jenifer Lewis). “Everyone’s been wanting to see Pops and Ruby together,” Barris said, “because they’re basically together anyway …. It’s the weirdest divorce I’ve ever seen.”
They’re part of an expanding universe of “-ish” characters, live or (for one special) animated.