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Kenya Barris to Exit ABC Studios

Kenya Barris is leaving ABC Studios.

The producer and showrunner behind shows like ABC’s critically-acclaimed comedy “Black-ish” and its spinoff “Grown-ish” at Freeform will depart the studio in August. Barris also has the recently-ordered Freeform comedy “Besties” at the studio, though a spokesperson for the studio said that Barris will remain an executive producer on all of his shows.

Kenny Smith will now join longtime co-showrunner Jonathan Groff heading day-to-day operations on “Black-ish,” and Julie Bean will continue to serve as showrunner on “Grown-ish.” Groff, Smith and Bean all have overall deals with ABC Studios.

Barris’ current deal with ABC Studios was not set to expire until 2021.

“I’m very grateful to Patrick Moran and his team at ABC Studios, who have supported me every step of the way as I created the worlds of ‘black-ish,’ ‘grown-ish,’ and now ‘Besties,'” Barris said in a statement. “It has been an incredible ride including a Peabody and Golden Globe win, Emmy nominations, and many other accolades. But most importantly, they’ve allowed me to realize my dream of creating my own shows and I’m so proud of the work we’ve done together. No matter what, the studio has never wavered in their support of my creative vision. Leaving is bittersweet, but between my series on the air and projects currently in development, I know I’ll continue to work with ABC Studios for a long time.”

Barris’ relationship with ABC began to show signs of strain in March when Variety reported that the network had indefinitely shelved an episode of “Black-ish” that he wrote and directed, “Please, Baby, Please,” which touched on current events, including controversy over athletes kneeling during performances of the national anthem. Barris told Variety at the time, “Given our creative differences, neither ABC nor I were happy with the direction of the episode and mutually agreed not to air it.”

A month later, reports surfaced that Barris was being courted by Netflix for an overall deal. The streaming service has been headhunting high-profile showrunners in the last year, signing nine-figure deals with Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes.

But complicating a jump to another studio home was Barris’ ABC deal. The producer had just signed a renewed overall agreement last year, one that ran through 2021. Because of the contract, Barris would not be able to move to Netflix or any other studio home without first negotiating an exit from ABC.

Netflix declined to comment on Barris Friday.

More recently, “Black-ish” has been the subject of controversy due to accusations of sexual assault against co-creator and star Anthony Anderson, who is currently under criminal investigation by the LAPD. Anderson has denied allegations against him, and sources tell Variety that production on the new season of “Black-ish” is moving forward as scheduled.

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