'Black-ish' Set Visit: Behind the Scenes With Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross

Photographed By Hussein Katz
Kenya Barris

The castmembers and crew behind ABC’s hit family comedy find the humor in such tough topics as police brutality, social class and the N-word and manage to "stay funny without making fun of the heavier subject matter."

Season two of ABC's Black-ish is two days from being wrapped, and all that's left is the third-to-last episode, "Super Rich Kids." Penned by 24-year-old Damilare Sonoiki, it explores how the Johnsons' affluence (parents Anthony Anderson's Dre and Tracee Ellis Ross' Rainbow were raised with more modest means) affects who their teenage children are growing up to be.

"I'm normally first in and last out," says Anderson, who also is an executive producer on the series created by Kenya Barris (who also launched America's Next Top Model). But on this Wednesday in March, with a 4 a.m. call time, while Anderson certainly was one of the first in, his lone scene of the day wrapped before lunch. In it, Anderson's character chastises his onscreen son Junior (Marcus Scribner) for actually playing basketball in his expensive new basketball shoes, pointing to scuffs on the white sneakers that the makeup artist on set keeps finessing between takes.

Money and its effect on identity is merely the latest real-life issue unpacked on the single-camera series, which has garnered critical praise: THR TV critic Daniel Fienberg recently called Black-ish one of "the best shows on broadcast TV." It also has generated significant social buzz — #blackish trended on Twitter during the show's police brutality episode, "Hope." "We pride ourselves on dealing with divisive topics — from gun control to the N-word to police brutality — by bringing a group of people to the table to spark that dialogue and try to create change," says Anderson, adding that the writers aim to be timely with topics explored on the show.

The approach has made Black-ish a meatier network comedy — but at the end of the day, it remains just that: a comedy. "What we want to do is make people laugh and start a conversation," says Barris, who often pulls storylines, like an episode about the N-word, from events in his family life. "We definitely backed ourselves into finding what this show is, but I think ultimately we're a family comedy." Adds Ross of the show's delicate balance, "We stay funny without making fun of the heavier subject matter."

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.