'Mixed-ish' Creators Sued for Allegedly Stealing Concept

'Mixed-ish' (ABC)
Kelsey McNeal/ABC

A prequel to Black-ish, the 1980s-set spinoff revolves around a younger version of Tracee Ellis Ross' Rainbow (Arica Himmell) as her family moves from a hippie commune to the suburbs. The single-camera ABC Studios comedy, written by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris and EP Peter Saji, will explore issues the mixed-race family faces. 

Actress Hayley Marie Norman is suing ABC, Tracee Ellis Ross, Kenya Barris and others claiming they appropriated a show she'd been pitching and turned it into Black-ish spinoff Mixed-ish.

Norman says in October 2017 she signed a deal with Big Breakfast to write, executive produce and star in the series. That company shares a parent with Artists First, a production and management company that counts Ross and Barris among its clients. She alleges both Ross and her manager Brian Dobbins were involved in the development of her series and claims Dobbins pitched it to Barris but he wasn't interested.

Her series, which is described as "a 30-minute sitcom, employing flashbacks, that follows the journey of a mixed-race female protagonist as she grapples with her biracial identity while living in the suburbs surrounded by both sides of her African American and Caucasian families," was pitched in late 2018 to Showtime, Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Amazon and Starz, and they all passed.

In January 2019, Norman says Ross advised that they revisit the series in a few months after rethinking the pitch, but the next month she read that ABC was in development on a Black-ish prequel centered on Ross' character Rainbow Johnson.

At that point, Black-ish had just been renewed for its sixth season and already had one spinoff ordered, Freeform's Grown-ish. The original series had highlighted that Bow Johnson (who's loosely based on Barris' real wife) was biracial in an episode featuring her parents that first aired in March 2015, which was two years before Norman signed her deal with Big Breakfast and almost three before she alleges Ross became involved.

Still, Norman insists Mixed-ish is her series, an idea she conceived based on her own background and registered as Mixed with the WGA in 2016.

"The premise is identical, its portrayal is identical, its setting is identical, and its tone is identical," writes attorney Michael Plonsker in the complaint. "Moreover, literally everyone involved in the 'creative' and 'production' aspect of 'Mixed-ish' was either directly or indirectly involved with Norman and the development of Norman’s Series — from Big Breakfast and Ross to Artists First and Dobbins, to Barris who ostensibly passed on Norman’s Series after being presented with it, and to ABC, which knowingly proceeded with airing a series it knew was the result of a theft and rip off perpetrated by the above-mentioned parties."

Norman's claims include breach of contract, breach of confidence, intentional misrepresentation and intentional interference with contract. She's seeking compensatory and punitive damages and restitution of the money defendants have made in connection with the series.

Reps for Barris, Ross, Dobbins and ABC have not yet responded to a request for comment in response to the complaint, which is posted below.