'Black-ish' Creator Kenya Barris Plots Exit From ABC Studios Pact After Clashes (Exclusive)

Sources tell THR that Netflix is courting the film and TV writer for another mega-overall pact.
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Kenya Barris

Could Kenya Barris be the next prolific producer to move from the broadcast studio system to Netflix?

Multiple sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the Black-ish creator and Girls Trip writer is actively trying to get out of his overall deal with ABC Studios, his creative home since 2015. Barris, who earned a Peabody and two best comedy Emmy nominations for his ABC show, has three years remaining on the lucrative four-year deal he signed in 2017. Those same sources say that he is in preliminary talks to join Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy with a mega-deal with Netflix. "Talks are very real," says a source of Barris' potential move to the streaming giant. ABC Studios and Netflix declined to comment; calls and emails to CAA and Principato-Young, who rep Barris, were not returned.

Barris would be a logical fit for Netflix, which is seeking what chief content officer Ted Sarandos has called a "rare class of creator" who can deliver hits that are both critically and commercially successful. Barris has proved the ability to deliver that on both the film and TV side. Also of interest to the streaming service, which is looking to satisfy its 117 million subscribers: prolific producers of content. Again, Barris delivered, overseeing a show and a spinoff while also developing aggressively on TV and in film.

The news comes after a series of tough breaks at ABC. Last month, for instance, it yanked a politically themed episode of Black-ish following creative differences between the network and Barris. At the time, ABC called the decision to scrap it a mutual one between the network and Barris, though sources say otherwise. The episode was poised to feature star Anthony Anderson's Dre relaying his concerns about the current stage of the country to his son. (Black-ish has yet to be renewed for a fifth season, though it is considered a slam dunk to return.) “Given our creative differences, neither ABC nor I were happy with the direction of the episode and mutually agreed not to air it," Barris said at the time. "Black-ish is a show that has spoken to all different types of people and brought them closer as a community and I’m so proud of the series.”

Since first signing with the Disney-owned studio in 2015, Barris has become its top comedy writer-producer. In addition to Black-ish, he has developed multiple projects for the network but landed only one series pickup: spinoff Grown-ish, which was originally developed for ABC but skewed too young, sources said, and was moved to cable sibling Freeform (where it was renewed for a supersized second season). Grown-ish was one of three projects Barris developed for ABC in 2017. Politically themed family comedy Libby and Malcolm, starring Felicity Huffman and Courtney B. Vance with a script from Barris, was considered a frontrunner to go to series given its timely premise of two politically divided pundits who fall in love, but ABC passed. The network also went to pilot on Toni Collette CIA drama Unit Zero, a passion project for Barris who described it as the "type of drama television I love doing. It pulls back the curtain on what it's like to be a woman in a historically male-dominated field and it shows underrepresented voices." It also did not go to series.

This season, ABC handed out a straight-to-series order for a family comedy written by Barris with Alec Baldwin attached to executive produce and potentially star. Baldwin ultimately exited the multicamera comedy after reading the script, and the series order was downgraded to pilot before ultimately being rolled off-cycle after trouble casting a lead of his caliber. (Sources say the project may never see the light of day.) Meanwhile, the Barris-produced single-camera comedy Bright Futures landed at another network — NBC — with a late-season pilot order.

Barris, meanwhile, already has business with Netflix for a feature film reboot of Shaft starring Samuel L. Jackson, with New Line producing the script written by Barris. He is also attached to rewrite a script for a sequel to Eddie Murphy's Coming to America. Both of those projects follow the breakout success of Girls Trip, which has grossed more than $140 million worldwide on a budget of $19 million. With film and TV chops, many industry insiders have said Barris' brand would be a likely fit with Netflix. (Barris, it should be noted, has a film deal with Fox, though it's unclear when that expires.)

Should he sign a deal with Netflix, Barris would join Shonda Rhimes (Scandal, Grey's Anatomy) and Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Crime Story) at the streaming service. Rhimes and Murphy each inked nine-figure mega-deals with Netflix, exiting their longtime homes at ABC Studios and 20th Century Fox Television, respectively, and helping to further ignite a war for talent among broadcast, cable and streamers. It's also worth noting that ABC Studios let Rhimes out of her deal in order to sign with Netflix as she had a year remaining with the company. If Barris were to follow suit, ABC Studios would have lost its top comedy and drama producers.