Monday, July 4, 2022

Lawsuit Alleging Kenya Barris Stole ‘Black-ish’ Idea Moves Forward; Netflix Deal on Horizon?

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*A lawsuit accusing “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris of stealing the show idea from his former writing partner appears headed to trial, after a judge on Thursday refused to toss it out.

Bryan Barber claims that he and Barris had an agreement in 2006 to develop a show for VH1 about a successful black TV writer working in a largely white environment. Barber, a music video director, accuses Barris of developing the idea into “Black-ish” several years later, violating their agreement to produce the show together. Barber sued in 2016, seeking writing credit and compensation.

Barris’ attorneys sought to have the suit thrown out, but Judge Samantha Jessner issued a tentative ruling on Thursday denying their motion, according to Variety. In her ruling, Jessner noted several similarities between the scripts for the two shows. For instance, in both shows, the main character works in a media company’s “urban department,” and both shows feature jokes about grape soda.

“The court finds the similarities between the ‘Black-ish’ pilot and the ‘Untitled Original Script’ sufficient to reach a jury,” Jessner wrote.

In a hearing on the motion on Thursday, Barris’ attorney Steve Stiglitz argued that the two shows have certain similarities because both are based on Barris’ life. The main character’s significant other is a doctor in both shows because Barris’ wife is a doctor, he argued.

“The mere fact that you have two works that are inspired by Mr. Barris’ life does not mean the two works ended up the same,” Stiglitz argued.

Stiglitz also argued that certain jokes — such as the one about grape soda — are common in comedy drawn from the African-American experience. The defense has argued that the two shows are in fact quite different, as the first was a workplace comedy featuring a single man considering cheating on his girlfriend, while “Black-ish” features a devoted family man with four children.

Jessner said she would take the arguments under consideration before issuing a final ruling. As of now, a trial is set for May 7.

 

Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter cites multiple sources in reporting that Barris is looking to get out of his lucrative ABC contract – which still has three years to go – and sign a mega-deal with Netflix, which recently signed fellow TV showrunner Shonda Rhimes.

The sources said things have been a bit rocky between Barris and ABC. Last month, news leaked that the network pulled a “Black-ish” episode about kneeling during the National Anthem earlier this year “because of fear it would be divisive and alienating.” According to THR, the show had Anthony Anderson’s Dre “relaying his concerns about the current [state] of the country” to his youngest son. According to Essence, the episode also featured a debate between Dre and his eldest son, Junior, about NFL players choosing to kneel for the national anthem.

At the time, the two parties said the decision to scrap the episode was mutual. “Given our creative differences, neither ABC nor I were happy with the direction of the episode and mutually agreed not to air it,” said Barris. But sources now tell THR that wasn’t the case.

 

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