ABC is placing big expectations on its new fall comedy with a certain small letter in its title: “black-ish.”
The half-hour series, which premieres Sept. 24, is centered on an African American family that moves to an upper-class, predominantly white neighborhood. Comedic frustrations ensue, in no small part from Andre “Dre” Johnson (Anthony Anderson), who wants to make sure his children maintain a sense of cultural identity.
Appearing in the series along with Anderson, who is one of the executive producers, are Tracee Ellis Ross (“Girlfriends”) and Laurence Fishburne (“The Matrix,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”).
“Black-ish” has already achieved milestone status of sorts: It’s the first major broadcast network comedy in almost a decade to revolve solely around a black family. And ABC is so high on the series that it’s given it one of the most coveted spots on its schedule: behind the Emmy Award-winning “Modern Family.”
“I know we’re under a lot of pressure to do well,” said Kenya Barris, the creator of “black-ish.” “But things are going well — shockingly well. This cast is amazing and jelling in an amazing way. There is great chemistry, and this is a great family show, filled with heart and love.”
Barris, one of the creators of the reality franchise “America’s Next Top Model,” said the show is largely based on his family and personal experience. His wife, like Ross’ character, is a doctor and mixed-race, and his family moved to a predominantly white neighborhood.
The series is built on the natural desire for parents to give their children more than they received in their childhoods, he said. “But then you realize that you don’t recognize who your kids are,” Barris said. “It’s a truly American story. There’s a lot of homogeneity in society, and that brings about real uncertainty.”
Fishburne, who is also an executive producer, added: “These are complex issues we’re dealing with: How do you raise children of privilege when you yourself don’t come from privilege? How do you give them a sense of cultural identity?”
Barris is aware that “black-ish” has already created a bit of a stir, much of it related to the title and what it means exactly.
“It’s definitely a provocative title, which has raised eyebrows with both blacks and white,” Barris said. “People are having a reaction which is out of context to what the show really is. They need to see the pilot, and they will discover that the show is very relatable and universal in its specificity. Now more than ever society has become this aggregate where different cultures have taken of each other’s identity.”
Another key force behind the show is Larry Wilmore, creator of the Emmy-winning “The Bernie Mac Show,” though probably better known for his work on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” But Wilmore soon will be leaving “black-ish” to focus on taking over Comedy Central’s upcoming late-night series “The Minority Report,” which takes over the Stephen Colbert time slot.
In taking on the series, Fishburne, who is known primarily for tough drama and action films, is playing against type. In the sitcom he plays a wisecracking grandfather.
“I’ve been taking more and more steps to reveal my lighter side,” said Fishburne, noting his humorous Kia commercial parodying his Morpheus character from “The Matrix” and his comic villain turn in the Kevin Hart film “Ride Along.”
The 53-year-old actor said he feels very comfortable with the show. “We’re bringing a lot of laughter,” said Fishburne. “And a lot of love.”