This story about Tracee Ellis Ross first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
By the time its sixth season was coming to a close, ABC’s “black-ish” was a smooth machine. One of the few broadcast TV shows still able to capture the zeitgeist in the streaming era, the show had more than a dozen Emmy nominations to its name and was being hailed as one of the most relevant and casually incisive series on television. The cast and crew knew the job inside and out. “The experience has been good from the beginning, but it’s only gotten better,” said star Tracee Ellis Ross, up for her fifth Emmy this year.
But, like every other show in production, black-ishwasturned upside down by the coronavirus. Season 6 had finished filming when the pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, meaning the comedy was able to avoid the last-minute scramble to wrap up storylines, but there were many more ups and downs to come.
First came the Season 7 pickup. Then, in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the subsequent racial-justice protests sweeping the country, Disney opted for a Hulu release of the politically charged episode “Please, Baby, Please,” which it had shelved for broadcast on ABC. The network also lined up a two-part, partially animated election special to air ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Season 7 was delayed until midseason, then, after pushback from producers and cast, was moved back up to the fall. All this on top of shooting a 21-episode season of TV with strict COVID safety protocols and restrictions.
“It was very challenging at first. I, in particular, was frightened,” Ross conceded. But once the season got underway, the magic came back. “It was like military precision, in terms of our COVID safety. With a group that has known each other this long, and that is such a well-oiled machine, we picked up the new COVID safety protocols really quickly. And by about the fifth episode, we were back in the swing.”
Ross credits at least part of the on-set efficiency to her working relationship with her TV husband, Anthony Anderson. The pair famously has little-to-no personal interaction outside of work, but Ross said they share an almost psychic connection once they arrive on set. “Anthony and I have the same litmus test for whether or not something is working,” Ross said. “He and I both have a standard of excellence for what we feel good about that’s the same.” Doing a scene, she added, “feels like we’re flying together to the point where a script supervisor will be like, ‘You forgot that line.’ And we’re just like ‘We know, we just wanted to keep going!’”
“I’ve never had more fun being stupid with another human being,” she said. “He’s never shamed my stupid, and I’ve never shamed his. I find great joy in it, actually.”
Season 7 picked up six Emmy nominations — a record for the show — including Outstanding Comedy Series and nods for both Ross and Anderson. The show’s costuming and hairstyling also received recognition, as did Georgia politician Stacey Abrams, who made a voiceover appearance on the election special. The nominations came in the wake of news that the upcoming eighth season would be the show’s final one on ABC. Ross spoke to TheWrap just moments before returning to set to begin work on the last season, calling it a “monumental and exciting” time for the show.
“I’m still interested in Bow Johnson, I’m still so intrigued by her,” Ross said of her character. “I still have moments where I’m like, ‘Oh, God. Why would you say that?’ The storylines continue to be interesting to me as we address subject matter that all of us are grappling with in our real lives. It’s still fun to dive into those subjects as somebody else.” She paused. “I’m excited to go back to work today.”
Read more from the Down to the Wire issue here.