How ‘Black-ish’ and ‘The Conners’ Are Addressing Black Lives Matter and COVID-19 in New Seasons (Exclusive)
By Zach Seemayer
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The hit family comedies Black-ish and The Conners are returning to TV, and the new seasons are set to tackle some serious issues with their trademark blend of comedy and social message. Both shows are not holding back when it comes to addressing and dealing with today's more pressing issues -- including the Black Lives Matter movement and the coronavirus pandemic.
"We're dealing with it, as we would in the workplace and at home, you know, we are using our voice," Black-ish star Anthony Anderson told ET's Nischelle Turner during a recent interview. "There's nothing that we're going to shy away from, especially in times like this."
"We're just embracing everything that's going on in the world, that's what Black-ish has always done," shared Marcus Scribner. "We've always told stories that reflect people across the world and families and how they're feeling in situations. Especially in such a crazy climate as this one, we're trying to keep it as real as possible."
"Our writing staff are walking a fine line between activism [in] making this show, and still having it be a comedy," Anderson added. "So I commend them for tackling the subjects that we're tackling, especially Black Lives Matter, police brutality, as well as the election and everything else that we're going through in real life right now."
When the network revealed their programming schedule earlier this year, Black-ish's seventh season was slated for a mid-season launch. However, after a campaign push by several of the series' biggest names, ABC quickly changed course and decided to have the season debut as part of the most prestigious fall lineup.
"In a time like this, with everything that is going on in the world, the optics of us being pushed to mid season… for me in particular, it seemed like our voices were being muted," Anderson shared. "And I feel like our voices needed to be more amplified than ever, and we needed to be on the fall schedule so we could be the voice of people, the voice of the community, in everything that we have been doing for the last six-plus years."
Anderson credits network execs for listening to the cast's concerns and for being open to changing direction.
"Once they saw how passionate we were about what we wanted to do and how we thought about the move, they realized that they have made an unknowing mistake and took ownership of it and corrected it," Anderson said.
Laurence Fishburne shared similar sentiments, explaining, "We all collectively got together and we made our phone calls and made our pitch to the network and, you know, to their credit they were wise enough and kind enough and thoughtful and sensitive enough to go, 'Hey, you know what? You're right.'"
"It was a decision that was made well before everything happened with the protests after George Floyd’s murder so they had made the decision based on some numbers and some math," Fishburne added. "But once they heard from us they were like yeah you guys are absolutely correct."
The new season is also going to be dealing with COVID-19 and the pandemic -- which has been a real concern for the show off-screen as well, as the cast and crew have had to work under unusual circumstances to maintain on-set safety and follow coronavirus prevention protocols.
According to nearly every one in the cast, it's Tracee Ellis Ross who really has her mind set to staying safe and keeping her on-set family safe as well.
"I feel like Tracee out of all of us is the most put together when it comes to staying safe," Miles Brown told ET. "I mean, she is obviously the most organized out of all of us, so we've got to look up to her when it comes to real life stuff."
"Tracey will make sure, she'll do her research on like different types of masks, like she is the type of person that does all the research and makes sure that everyone is on top of their game," Marsai Martin added. "She'll even change the precautions just to make sure everyone is safe."
The pandemic has really changed production all around when it comes to making TV, but it's also going to have an impact on the upcoming season of another ABC other primetime sitcom, The Conners.
ET spoke with Lecy Goranson and Laurie Metcalf, and the stars opened up on how the pandemic was going to impact the Conner family during the upcoming season.
"Well, first of all, they're quarantining together. which gets sloppy [and] dysfunctional," Metcalf explained. "So they are dealing with the virus in real time like we all are and it's a part of every episode but it doesn't overwhelm every episode."
"So the writers again have done a great job of walking that fine line of finding humor where it's really hard to find," she added.
"The show is expressing, kind of, the characters individually, how they're dealing with it and then collectively as well, and you know it wouldn't be The Conners without a financial crisis, so we still got that going for us," Goranson added with a laugh.
The new season of The Conners kicks off Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, followed immediately by the premiere of Black-ish at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.