Spinoff Stories -- Blackish (Article XI)

Take a ride through the rich history of television, as TVRG begins exploring spinoffs of successful sitcoms and their triumphs and trounces in network efforts to expand successful sitcoms and create franchises.  Article XI explores the success story of Blackish, a mid 2010's success machine which has seamlessly launched a spinoff and prequel.

For more on how Blackish and Mixedish ranked in the nielsens through their combined 17 seasons, check out the RATINGS HISTORY LIBRARY
The Original Hit Machine
Blackish (2014-present) 

ABC was overdue for a diverse overhaul in their family sitcom realm in the mid 2010's as nearly every family was white in their ensembles.  Though they had (then) fledgling The Goldbergs portraying a Jewish family front and center, ABC opted to order Blackish and Fresh Off the Boat, shows which centered on Black and Asian American families.  2014 also marked a landmark year for ABC as not only did they push back to 3rd place in the ratings, but the 4th year in each decade seems to be the year the tone, tastes and hits rotate in the television landscape.   Blackish's well-promoted entry excited television critics as they felt the series would be the next Cosby Show with a black cast front and center bringing a hit to America.  That of course was also the fateful Fall (and literal fall) when Bill Cosby stood accused of multiple allegations of sexual assault decades earlier and successful Cosby Show reruns were eradicated from the landscape.

Kenya Berris wisely distinguished Blackish in tone away from being "new Cosby" with characters who were livelier than the Huxtables.  Centered on Andre "Dre" Johnson, Sr. (Anthony Anderson), he is a successful businessman balancing life with his doctor wife Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), a house full of four kids and visits peppered from his long-divorced parents Earl (Laurence Fishburne) and Ruby (Jenifer Lewis).  Blackish received critical acclaim as it not only tackled everyday issues, but also clamped its jaws deep into relevant social issues.  Its memorable Season 2 episode "Hope" featured the family watching in horror as an officer's trial unfolded in the wake of racial profiling.  The episode was jarring yet added rich layers to the Johnson family.

Blackish also aired during the polarizing 2016 presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump with the series boldly cementing their interests opposing Trump, perhaps dividing audiences.  Special episodes and issues addressed are offset with energetic backstories of Dre's childhood, as well as the unraveling of his parents' troubled marriage.  Six seasons in, Blackish is always delivered a tall order of 23-24 episodes on demand from ABC.  Even during COVID-19 shutdowns in 2020, Blackish managed to successfully deliver 23 episodes when many series were forced to clip their deliveries to 19-21 episodes.  The hit series also syndicates well, and ABC continues to commit to the franchise as it along with its spinoffs all received renewals during a troubled season.
The First Spinoff
Grownish (2018-present) 

A different world?  Not just a Cosby Show spinoff centered on a daughter heading off to school but rather what Kenya Berris perfected when he sent Zoe Johnson (Yara Shahadi) off to Cal-U for an education.  Unlike A Different World, Grownish has layered and built Zoe as she realizes she is not always the special one in the room.  Unlike A Different World's Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) just hanging out with a bunch of girls, Zoe is fully entrenched in a diverse core group of people which she is learning balance and growth.  Grownish used Zoe as a transplant and expanded with entertaining and diverse peers with age-appropriate storytelling.  As an added anchor, Deon Cole (Charlie Telphy) joined the ensemble as a professor (and later dean) lending another familiar line from Blackish.  Instead of shopping the sitcom on the crowded ABC map (in a season with president Channing Dugney trimmed two sitcom spaces), producers shopped it to a more appropriate Freeform, where Grownish tackles the target audience and blends in seamlessly.

Critics and viewers embraced the series, with Freeform upping the ante in 2019 with a 21-episode order split over two arcs.  Can anyone argue, as the young ensemble is age appropriate and progressing.  Had Zoe been featured on The Goldbergs, she would have been a third-year student, and of course had about 7 years in college.  Kenya Berris seems to value progression and set the series up (right down to the title) so it may easily move past the college scene into young-adult territory.  A 4th season is in order despite COVID-19 disrupting production, dropping episodes down to 8.  And with remaining episodes promised from the season, 2021 appears to be a lucrative year for Grownish to deliver fans a monumental order of shows.

The Second Spinoff
Mixedish (2019-present) 

Eyeing the success CBS experienced with Big Bang Theory prequel Young Sheldon, ABC attempted to duplicate the success and center a prequel on Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross).  The pilot was splashy and catapulted viewers back to 1985.  Though critically acclaimed, the prequel has failed to establish its own unique voice and humor.  Like TBBT's Sheldon, Rainbow's family was shown and discussed at length over the prior 5 seasons.  The difference was Rainbow is a balanced character vs. Sheldon Cooper had intense, vivid descriptions of his family which already established them by the time Young Sheldon came to be.  Mark Paul Gosselaar and Tika Sumpter knock it out of the park as Bow's parents Alicia and Paul, but the younger ensemble still needs definition.  The greatest perk offered for the divided Blackish fans is if they tired of Trump bashing, this was virtually non-existent in Mixedish as they pay more attention to social and race issues.  And unlike most network shows, Mixedish managed to squeeze in a nice visual title sequence featuring the cast, taking a nod to older sitcoms.

ABC opted to give Mixedish gained exposure by handing it Blackish' timeslot, debuting at a solid 0.9.  A mild windfall in January 2020 behind Jeopardy: Greatest of All Time bounced the series up to a 1.1 rating.  Beyond that, both Mixedish and Blackish suffered massive erosions in the Tuesday 9:00 timeslot. Despite lower ratings, both series received full-season pickups.


The "ish" franchise has been the most successful example of threading crossovers between its franchise.  Yarah Shahadi remains the constant force crossing back and forth as Zoe Johnson, seamlessly explained as Zoe drops back into the Johnson home like any college student does for holidays or missing family treatment.  Deon Cole also managed double-duty as Charlie Telphy on both Blackish and Grownish for two seasons, providing the perfect light for both shows to shine light on each other.  After Grownish received a 21-episode pickup for Season 2, Cole parted with full-time status on Grownish and appropriately returned to Blackish as his delivery is best suited complementing Anthony Anderson's Dre.  And his presence was valued on Blackish as carrying a show is a tough act to follow for younger actors, and Cole aided Shahari as she was easing into being a central focus vs the middle of the ensemble.

And of course what would a college spinoff be without spicing it up with visits from family?  All Johnson cast members from Blackish save for Marcus Schribner (Junior) have spritzed episodes to crash Zoe's party and remind her of her roots.  Crossovers on prequel Mixedish are trickier as the time table is cemented in the mid-1980's.  Narrator Tracey Ellis Ross of course remains the constant threadline, and crafty writing helped the Johnson family make an appearance in the pilot episode.

Success Factor 

Timing, proper integration of crossovers, a compatible network and proper cast implementations launched Grownish into its own orbit with a younger audience keeping it buzzworthy.  The spinoff was not designed so Zoe could just hang out with her peers, but add crucial layers to her laissez faire nature.  She is progressing and expanding on the Blackish universe, adding other characters who hold potential to break off into their own sitcoms.  Grownish arrived during Blackish' 4th season, the ideal time to examine a spinoff.  And that season was also when Blackish was a solid performer in the ratings, lending more support.  The jury is still out on Mixedish which holds potential but perhaps should distinguish itself with more character development and insight into Rainbow.  Either way, these series have helped the Blackish franchise amass 11 combined seasons delivered to fans.

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