ABC hosted the final Television Critics Association (TCA) panel for black-ish on January 11, 2022, and it was both a hilarious and heartfelt send-off for the critically acclaimed comedy that’s finishing up its run at the end of this, its eighth season. The virtual TCA winter press conference featured the series’ stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross along with series creator/executive producer Kenya Barris and showrunner/executive producer Courtney Lilly.
Tracee Ellis Ross did her best to hold her emotions in check as she reflected on not only the years spent with the black-ish cast and crew but also the wide variety of important topics the show touched upon over its eight-season run.
“I think we covered a lot. I think we probably could have gone another 10 years, and I think that’s one of the beautiful things about black-ish and the DNA of the show that Kenya established from the start, and that Courtney was able to pick up, is that this was a show that was character-driven,” said Ross. “It was really about this family. It was about the Johnsons and that means they were navigating the world that we all live in, in a timely way. There’s a never-ending amount of topics for us to discuss that are a part of the wallpaper of our lives that we’re all trying to make sense of and navigate.”
Ross added, “I think we did that incredibly beautifully in the topics that we covered, from Juneteenth, to police brutality, to postpartum depression, to just being a family…we did incredibly well. I feel like we leave with a whole bunch of joy and pride about how we handled everything.”
black-ish has a plethora of big-name guest stars scattered throughout the final season, with former First Lady Michelle Obama setting the celebrity bar high with her appearance on the season eight premiere. Courtney Lilly credits Tracee Ellis Ross with that particular “get,” noting that Tracee and Mrs. Obama are friends. “Literally, it was something we wanted to do for a long time,” explained Lilly. “The opportunity presented itself and it came down to just like, ‘Hey, will you send a text to your friend and see if she’s interested?’”
“Courtney, let’s backtrack. You came up with a great idea that I thought was very worthy of bringing to Michelle,” interjected Ross.
While that’s true, Lilly pointed out other showrunners aren’t fortunate enough to have that sort of ability to reach out to Michelle Obama. “I’m sure there’s also a lot of TV writers that would love to come up with a great idea for us to call on Mrs. Obama, and they don’t have the in. And honestly, it’s just how this stuff works. Like, you know, Magic Johnson – we were doing an episode with the Lakers that we were really excited about and Anthony was our hookup for that, getting us into the practice facility and knowing everybody. Tracee and Anthony, essentially, know everybody.”
During the TCA panel, Kenya Barris recalled the origin of the series and what he initially set out to do with this half-hour primetime comedy.
“I think what we wanted to do was say something that you know, as much as we grew up loving The Cosby Show, we felt like The Cosby Show happened to be Black, and we wanted to do a show that was absolutely, positively, just outwardly Black. I think that was something that we felt like we weren’t going to be able to do so we were like, ‘If we get on, we’ll be lucky to stay on a season, so let’s just go for it,” said Barris. “And one season turned into two which now is into our eighth. I never in a million years imagined that it would become what it’s become, and, you know, our lives, and what we’ve done, and how it’s allowed us all to grow, would grow into what it’s grown into.”
Unlike her experience on Girlfriends, Tracee Ellis Ross and her co-stars were aware black-ish was ending going into the show’s final season. Ross has spoken about the grieving process she went through after leaving her Girlfriends character Joan Clayton behind, and while saying goodbye to Rainbow Johnson will be difficult, it will be a little less traumatic since black-ish didn’t come to an abrupt, unexpected end.
“We didn’t know (Girlfriends) was ending; we didn’t get a wrap party; we didn’t get a finale; none of that. So, it’s been a beautiful end to black-ish. We knew the end was coming. I walked into it with a very open heart and very present from the full season. And in our last episode, Anthony will tell you, there were a lot of tears from me. They just kept coming,” confessed Ross. “He was like, ‘Are you seriously crying again?’ And I would be like, ‘Yeah, I am.’ And then, we got a wrap party right after and I was able to have that experience. And then, from the end of production, we now get a full rollout of our show. So, I’ve had the process to be present for an end, and I think it has changed the grieving process because I’ve had the ritual of an end.”
“But, you know, just watching that video package, I get emotional. It’s been a huge part of my life. I’ve been pretend-married to Dre Johnson for a really long time and had children. I’ve had a hundred children,” said Ross, laughing. “Rainbow Johnson has had a hundred children and a dog that disappeared, and it’s going to be hard to let go of such an important and special time. I mean, I saw those people every day. And not just our cast, our crew. We had the most incredible crew for all those years. They are people that you come to love and become your family. So, you know, I miss Anthony already.”
Barris agreed. “I think that we were, like Tracee said, lucky enough to know this was our final season,” said Barris. “You know, shows don’t go this long anymore and so it was kind of like the end has been near. We kind of felt it for some time. But I do agree with Tracee. We feel like we could have (gone) on much longer. So, I think the conversations were like, ‘How do we sort of…?’ It was more of an homage to the show and a proper goodbye to the audience who stood by us for so long, and to really try to give them a chance to say goodbye and take a walk with this family.”
Tracee Ellis Ross admitted she knew she was going to have a difficult time making it through the final episode. “For me, honestly… I mean, Anthony knows I didn’t think I was going to be able to get through our final scene. I think rehearsal was a mess. I was like, ‘I can’t even do it.’ The final scene that we shot, the final scene of the show was just…yeah.”
“I had already emotionally checked out by then,” joked Anderson.
“The final episode, by the way, Anthony was so quiet. I kept leaning behind his back and I would say to people, ‘He’s very emotional. He doesn’t know how to process. He’s dealing with things,” revealed Ross.
“That’s another great thing about Tracee and my relationship,” said Anderson. “No matter where I was or whatever emotional state I might have been in, all it took was just a touch from Tracee on my shoulder, on my hand, on my knee, as we were sitting at the table or the counter, and I knew that it was all going to be all right. That’s all that it took to calm me down and bring me back, and to reel me back in.”