Creator Kenya Barris Has Stepped Back, but Black-ish Will Continue Featuring Integrations

Producers have become ‘more discriminating’ about which brands they’ll feature

Kenya Barris made Anthony Anderson's Dre an advertising exec so he could organically incorporate integrations into the show.
Ron Tom/ABC

When Kenya Barris created Black-ish back in 2014, he made Anthony Anderson’s lead character, Dre, an advertising executive, because he knew that career would lend itself to organic integrations with brands on the show. That’s what happened during the ABC sitcom’s first four seasons, as it partnered with several brands, including Microsoft, State Farm and Procter & Gamble.

As Black-ish’s fifth season gets underway, Barris is no longer serving as showrunner—Adweek’s newly-anointed TV Creator of the Year stepped back this summer to focus on his lucrative new Netflix deal, though he remains involved as an executive producer—but the show’s remaining creative team will continue to feature integrations this season.

“We’ve been able to have that superpower of the [fictional Stevens & Lido] advertising agency and the [Johnson family] home, and sometimes we can do both,” said executive producer Jonathan Groff of how the show is able to incorporate brands.

“With the car company it makes so much sense to me that Dre would be able to get a brand like Buick as a client, and maybe would be driving one for his own benefit and would have one for the family to drive and being using it, so he could write great ads for it. So I like to be able to have both the family using it, in the way any show would, and have that ability to talk about the product in the advertising agency,” Groff said, adding the show will incorporate integrations again this season, likely including one featuring a car brand and another focusing on a tech brand.

During Black-ish’s run, producers have “gotten a bit more discriminating” about which brands they’ll incorporate into the show, said Groff. But “in some ways, we’re also more open, because we feel confident that we can pull it off. We’ve done it enough times that we know, there’s a way to do it that will feel ham-fisted, and there’s ways to do it that will feel more organic and woven in nicely.”

Out of all the show’s integrations, Groff said the most successful was the Microsoft Surface partnership from two seasons ago, which culminated in a 60-second branded content spot featuring the cast. Not only did the characters use the product to work on the Surface campaign at Stevens & Lido, but the show also incorporated the Surface into a “dumb argument” the characters were having, which led to them making a list of things they loved about women.

“It was organically demonstrating the features while talking about the product, and yet they were showing features they could also talk about in the client copy,” said Groff. “So it was layer upon layer of organic integration that worked.”

Groff, who is now serving as co-showrunner with Kenny Smith, said that while Barris has stepped back, the show has several long-time writers who have been there since the beginning, all of whom are now executive producers.

“So it’s a pretty stable team, even without Kenya. And he’s still checking in with us all the time, and very much has his hands on it,” said Groff. “He’s still going to be an executive producer, it’s still his baby, and it’s the closest thing to his life story on TV because he created it, so I suspect he’s going to stay pretty involved in terms of talking to us about stories, reading scripts and giving us notes.”

Barris, who is hard at work developing a variety of projects for Netflix, told Adweek earlier this month that he helped helped break early stories for the new seasons of Black-ish and Freeform spinoff Grown-ish, and is still helping those producers with production issues and securing guest stars. “It has been a difficult thing for me to let go of, but I am trying to do my best,” Barris said.

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