PASADENA, California — If you liked Regé-Jean Page’s performance as Chicken George in A&E’s 2015 update of Roots, I have good news for you. The British-Zimbabwean actor now plays a jerk of a federal prosecutor named Leonard Knox in the new Shondaland legal drama, For The People. And because it’s a Shonda Rhimes show, yes, you’ll see him shirtless.
Her company, Shondaland, has a giant new deal with Netflix. But it still has remaining shows at ABC, including For The People, scheduled to premiere in March, and an untitled Grey’s Anatomy spinoff set three blocks down from Seattle Grace in a firehouse.
Paris Barclay, the former Directors Guild of America president, is directing again on The Spinoff That ABC Refused to Name, after previous Shondaland stints on Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder.
Barclay is a groundbreaker in all sorts of ways, including as the first black and first openly gay president of the Directors Guild of America. So he knows how rare it is to be directing on a show executive produced by a black woman, for a network run by a black woman — ABC president Channing Dungey is the first black person to run a broadcast network.
“Shonda is a whole new world,” Barclay told me during the Television Critics Association press tour here. “It’s been one of the best experiences of my career. I love going into a room with executives at ABC and they’re mostly women and I think that’s great. And the shows that she creates, with Stacy [McKee], and with other people, put women in the forefront and I guess that’s what I’m going to have to do for the rest of my life because I enjoy it so much.”
ABC is also reviving American Idol, with Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan as judges and Ryan Seacrest still hosting. There was a strict no-spoilers policy in place, so I can’t tell you if the show found any memorable singers this season. But the chemistry between the judges seems amicable and genuine. One of the fun things about press tour is reading the body language between co-stars to figure out which ones aren’t exactly fans of each other. But there’s clearly mutual respect between Richie and Bryan, and it started to make sense why Bryan was tapped to be part of the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony paying tribute to Richie.
The tribute acts for the Kennedy Center show are closely held secrets because they’re supposed to be a surprise for the honorees. The Kennedy Center reached out to Bryan about honoring Richie while the two were working together on Idol, leaving Bryan to find a way to keep mum about the whole thing.
“I’m around this man seven or eight times, and I know I’m going to be a part of this secret,” Bryan said.
Bryan said that he really wanted to walk the red carpet at the Kennedy Center but couldn’t.
“You want to get out there and do the red carpet and tell everybody why you were so honored to honor Lionel and just be a part of it,” he said. “It is a beautiful, beautiful night, Kennedy Center Honors. So I get on the red carpet, and I’m, like, going to take my first picture, and they are, like, ‘Get off the carpet! He’s here! He’s here!’
“I guess … either I was running behind, or Lionel was running ahead. And so they run me around, and I’m literally standing outside of a bathroom for about 30 minutes because Lionel is out there hamming it up on the carpet talking to everybody. Then I’m like, ‘The heck with it. Let’s just sneak around the back.’ ”
Richie was none the wiser until Bryan appeared on stage that night.
Roseanne is being revived at ABC, but one of her best qualities has been complicated by recent events.
Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, I wrote in an essay for The Undefeated that many people of color were wondering about public and private truths in American society. Namely, who among us would wish us harm?
Monday, I had the chance to ask that question about a beloved character from the 1990s, Roseanne Conner, who famously and forcefully lectured her son DJ that there was no place for bigotry in their house after DJ refused to kiss a black girl in his school play. It was a striking scene in one of America’s most popular shows. Conner was a groundbreaking character and it was incredibly significant to see a white woman saying that just because their family was economically disadvantaged, that didn’t mean they would stand for looking down their noses at black people.
Well, the Roseanne Conner of 2017 is a Trump voter. And so I asked her creator Roseanne Barr, who was also a Trump voter, how that happened. How did Conner become a person who didn’t see Trump’s well-documented instances of xenophobic and racist statements as disqualifying?
“Well, he says a lot of crazy s—,” Barr said. “You know, I’m not a Trump apologist and there are a lot of things he has said and done that I don’t agree with, like there’s probably a lot of things Hillary Clinton has done and said that you don’t agree with. And so nobody is brainwashed into agreeing with a hundred percent of what anybody says, let alone a politician or a candidate. But one great thing that I read today is that this is the lowest black unemployment. This is the lowest level of that for many, many years. So I think that’s great, and I do support jobs for people. And I think that that’s a great way to fight racism, is for everybody to have a good job.”
Barr continued: “It’s always a lesser of two evils, and we all have to face our own conscience of how we do that. And speaking of racism, I mean, I’m just going to say it: I appreciate your concern, but I am going to say that a large part of why I could not vote for Hillary Clinton is because Haiti.” (In 2009, the State Department under Clinton sided with Haitian garment manufacturers in opposing an increase in the minimum wage because of concerns it would jeopardize efforts at labor reform.)