6:35pm PT by Lacey Rose
Kenya Barris Eying ViacomCBS Studio Venture, Netflix Exit
Kenya Barris is on the move — again.
The prolific producer of ABC's Black-ish and its many Disney-owned spinoffs is said to be in talks with ViacomCBS about his next act, a studio venture with the media giant. Per sources, the latter, which would have him working closely with BET’s Scott Mills and Showtime’s David Nevins, would give Barris a shot at true ownership and the opportunity to keep building out his empire. Though a deal is not yet finalized for what would amount to an equity stake in the Viacom-launched entity, such a move would require Barris be let out of his sweeping Netflix pact early, which sources close to him say the streamer has allowed. Netflix, for its part, declined to comment.
In recent months, Barris has been vocal with his frustrations at Netflix, using several press opportunities to bemoan such things as the inability to be timely on the platform in the way he once was in network television. He's also talked openly about how there are parts of him that miss the sort of oversight that a Disney offered him, suggesting "you can author your own demise at Netflix if you're not careful."
Of course, as many will remember, Barris didn't leave Disney on the best of terms. In fact, he was let out of that deal early to move to Netflix in 2018, following a prior Disney regime's infamous decision to shelve a political episode of Black-ish, titled "Please, Baby Please." Though when the new regime decided to air it and re-air other timely Black-ish episodes amid the civil unrest this summer, Barris praised the executives there and waxed on about how much he'd missed being a part of the water cooler conversation. At one point, there were even rumblings that Barris may try to go back to Disney.
Like others with giant Netflix deals, Barris is a hugely prolific force — one who can famously write pilots or hit movies in a matter of days, and often does. His résumé in film includes Girls Trip, Witches, Shaft and an upcoming Richard Pryor biopic, and there are probably 12 more scripts coming. In TV, he’s had just as many ideas but struggled to get many of them made during his time at Disney, and is said to have met some resistance with his free flow of ideas at Netflix as well. He’s likely to have considerably more control as an equity holder in the new studio, though moving from Netflix budgets to Viacom ones will likely prove eye-opening.
At Netflix, Barris’ first and primary foray, #BlackAF, in which he also starred, was not the kind of runaway success that he had likely hoped, though it certainly got critics talking, and Netflix has commissioned a season two. Through his production company, Barris also has the sketch series Astronomy Club on the service and a Kid Cudi animated music series Entergalactic coming. Whether he continues with these projects after he departs is an open question, though he's certainly been able to keep a hand in his ABC fare. In fact, he’s said to be writing the latest Black-ish spinoff.
News of the new venture was first reported by Deadline.