5:30pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
Kenya Barris Officially Exits ABC Studios Pact, Eyes Nine-Figure Netflix Mega-Deal
It's official: Black-ish showrunner and Girls Trip writer Kenya Barris is leaving his longtime home at ABC Studios as sources say he could become the next mega-producer to ink a nine-figure overall deal with Netflix.
Barris' deal with ABC Studios will end in August as he and the studio have now negotiated his exit. Netflix, meanwhile, declined comment on a potential deal with the prolific writer-producer.
Barris' likely move to Netflix comes as the prolific showrunner, as exclusively reported by The Hollywood Reporter, had been 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 comedy Black-ish, had three years remaining on the lucrative four-year deal he signed in 2017. Sources say other studios, including Warner Bros. Television, courted Barris with nine-figure offers as well. Barris, like Shonda Rhimes when she departed ABC Studios, will remain an executive producer on all of his shows. Kenny Smith has been promoted to co-showrunner alongside Jonathan Groff on Black-ish. Julie Bean continues to serve as showrunner on the Freeform spinoff Grown-ish. Groff, Smith and Bean all have overall deals with ABC Studios. The news comes months after Freeform handed out a straight-to-series order for Barris comedy Besties, which will remain on track.
Barris is 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 (Freeform's Grown-ish) while also developing aggressively on TV and in film.
The potential Netflix deal follows a series of tough breaks at ABC. In March, 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 state of the country to his son. "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 the 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 new lead of Baldwin's 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, but it was passed over at the broadcast network.
Barris, meanwhile, already has projects at Netflix including a feature film reboot of Shaft, 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 grossed more than $140 million worldwide on a budget of $19 million. (Barris, it should be noted, has a film deal with Fox, though it's unclear when that expires.)
Barris, should his Netflix pact close, will join Rhimes (Scandal, Grey's Anatomy) and Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Crime Story) with nine-figure deals at the streaming service. Rhimes and Murphy each exited their longtime homes at ABC Studios and 20th Century Fox Television, respectively, 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. Barris' exit now leaves ABC Studios without its top comedy and drama producers.
Other producers who have been rumored to be targeted by Netflix include Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan, Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane and Shameless' John Wells.
Barris is repped by CAA, Artists First and Morris Yorn.