LOS ANGELES | When Tracee Ellis Ross learned she had been nominated for an Emmy for her work in “black-ish,” she did what most people would do. She ran around her dining room table.
“Then, I opened my front door and, outside standing in the courtyard, I said, out loud, ‘Where am I going? I’ve got to call someone.’”
That someone turned out to be her mom, singer Diana Ross.
“We screamed for a little bit,” Tracee reports. “It was really cute.”
One of ABC’s most critically acclaimed series, “black-ish” is one of only two network series nominated for Best Comedy. Co-star Anthony Anderson is in the hunt for Best Actor, making it the only series with both leads nominated.
The recognition, Ross says, comes as a result of a number of changes. “In our country, right now, the idea of family comedy is very important. We’ve been doing reality television for so long people had to warm back up to the idea. That happened.”
The show, she says, also has improved. “The longer we’re together, the better. It’s like day-old chili, it gets better over time.”
And, finally, the storylines have been relevant. Addressing minority issues that have been in the news, “black-ish” has been able to shine a light on a host of viewpoints. It’s current and, best of all, it’s funny.
“My mom is really big on laughing and she loves watching the show,” Ross says. Bringing families together, the series can get all generations to weigh in on everything from pregnancy (yup, her character is pregnant) to job loss to aging.
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The news that Dre and Rainbow Johnson were expecting a fourth child was dropped into one of last season’s final episodes. “It wasn’t this thing we were trying all season long. It was an unexpected gift,” Ross says. “It let (the characters) take stock of their life together.”
It also helped hammer home the point that pregnancy is no long the domain of TV women in their 20s. “Women are getting pregnant at older and older ages,” the 43-year-old actress says.
While Ross doesn’t have any children in her off-screen life, she does feel like a mother to the actors who play her on-screen children. “It’s just wonderful watching them grow up. They’re wonderful people and they have these beautiful personalities. There’s only so bad a day can be when you have kids on set.”
Ross says she looks forward to the greetings they offer in the morning and the goodbyes at the end of the day. “It’s so moving to watch them become who they’re becoming. That’s priceless to me.”
When she was starting out in the business, the former model and “Girlfriends” star was told she needed to find a small community of connected people who were important to her. “Let that be a gauge and not social media.”
Mom, though, has always a sounding board.
“She’s so supportive,” Ross says. “When we came home from school and told her our grades, she’d say, ‘But did you do your best? If you did your best and you’re happy with it, we’re good.’ That was always the way my mom parented.”
Now, Ross says, the encouragement still continues.