Sutherland’s next act; ‘black-ish’ aims for everyone

Kiefer Sutherland, left, and Natascha McElhone participate in the "Designated Survivor" panel during the Disney/ABC Television Critics Association summer press tour on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — A roundup of news from Thursday’s sessions of the Television Critics Association summer meeting, at which TV networks and streaming services are presenting details on upcoming programs.



ABC’s hit comedy “black-ish” dwells on an African-American family, but Kenya Barris, the show’s creator, says he isn’t interested in profiling who sees it.

“It’s ridiculous: Everything is about black and white,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who’s watching our show. What counts is, they’re watching it.

“I would be so happy when ‘diversity’ is not a word,” he continued during a panel discussion with the show’s producers and all-black cast. “These are amazing, talented actors who are giving it their all. We’re so tired of talking about diversity at every panel. The question of diversity clouds the conversation.”

Even so, Barris disclosed that roughly one-fourth of the audience is black, with much of the rest presumably white-ish.

“Sometimes those questions can skew the conversation in a direction that does not help the conversation,” cautioned Tracee Ellis Ross, who co-stars with Anthony Anderson as the upper-middle-class parents of four youngsters.

Anderson said he hears the same thing about the show from its fans, whatever their color or ethnicity: “When I see your family up there on that screen, I see mine.”

“black-ish,” which won a Peabody Award this year and is nominated for three Emmy awards, returns for its third season on Sept. 21.



If there’s a clear-cut new hit on broadcast TV’s fall lineup, it’s likely to be ABC’s political thriller “Designated Survivor.”

It certainly clicked for Kiefer Sutherland, its star, when he first read the pilot script.

“I had no intention of doing a television show,” he told assembled TV writers. “But I remember getting to the end of the script and realizing I was potentially holding the next 10 years of my life in my hands.”

Sutherland stars as a bottom-level cabinet member who is suddenly appointed President of the United States after a catastrophic attack kills the incumbent chief executive and most of his administration.

More than any TV creator could have dreamed, the series arrives at a cultural moment when “there’s a hunger for outsider candidates,” noted producer Simon Kinberg. The show’s hero is “a political outsider, so he’s coming to it in an innocent way. He is uncorrupted, at least at the beginning of his term. There’s a Frank Capra-esque aspect to the show.”

Sutherland said he’s confronting one big adjustment with this role after his many years on “24” as Jack Bauer, an almost super-human defender of presidents and the free world. Now, as President Tom Kirkman, he is surrounded by hulking actors who play Secret Service agents protecting him.

“I’ve never felt so short on a show in my life,” he confided.

“Designated Survivor” premieres Sept. 21.



Six months into the job as ABC Entertainment’s president, Channing Dungey said she’s clear about where she wants to see the “black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat” network go, including toward further diversity.

ABC is “very proud that we reflect America authentically in all of its diversity, and we definitely want to continue to move in that direction,” the network’s programming chief told the Television Critics Association.

Among her immediate targets: “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” reality shows which have consistently featured whites in the title roles.

“I would very much like to see some changes there,” said Dungey, the first African-American to head a broadcast TV network. She said that could best be accomplished by adding more people of color to the shows’ initial contestant pools, which yield the runner-up who tends to become the next cycle’s starring bachelor or bachelorette.

Dungey, who had been ABC’s executive vice president for drama development, movies and miniseries, replaced Paul Lee as head of programming in February. Other topics she touched on in a Q&A session:

— There have been conversations with Lucasfilm, the creative home of “Star Wars,” now owned by ABC parent Walt Disney Co., about the possibility of finding a “way to extend that brand into our programming,” but she didn’t elaborate on how or when that might occur.

“As a fan, I would absolutely love to say ‘yes'” it will happen, she said.

— Although prime-time Thursday has become known as the exclusive property of producer Shonda Rhimes’ shows, including “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Scandal,” ABC’s fall schedule for the night will include a non-Shondaland drama, “Notorious.” That’s in part a response to the delayed return of “Scandal” because of star Kerry Washington’s pregnancy, and the extended production time required for Rhimes’ new series “Still Star-Crossed.”

Dungey said that Rhimes “has a clear sense of what it takes to schedule a network.”