Freeform, the network formerly known as ABC Family, has posted three episodes of its new series Recovery Road online in advance of the January 25 debut. “The best marketing for a great show is a great show,” explained network president Tom Ascheim this morning during a TCA panel with the show creators.
Ascheim also jumped to the show’s defense after some TV critics seemed dubious of its bona fides. In particular, a couple critics wondered whether there’s an appetite for a show about recovering addicts and questions as to whether viewers will stick with a show in which the characters have setbacks – unless the show was planning to recast frequently as characters completed the recovering program.
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Retaking the TCA podium after the session wrapped, Ascheim said the show is about temptation. “Grappling is the hardest dramatic thing to show,” he said in the unusual move, dismissing as far less interesting the “after-school-special-y” approach to recovering addicts, where everyone gets clean by the end and live happily ever after.
The series is about struggle “and this show stays there,” he said. Ascheim also took issue with one critic’s “implied question” as to whether viewers would stick with an uncomfortable subject. He likened the new series to Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. “A recovery house is not quite jail,” but both shows take viewers to a place most people will never see, a place viewers might “feel like it’s another country, but are intrigued” to visit.
Some critics nicked the show for being set at a co-ed recovery house which, one noted, is not the norm. And the lead character, played by Jessica Sula, gets involved in a relationship, usually a no-no during rehab. That critic wondered if Freeform’s target younger audience would watch the show and come away “thinking it’s a place to meet cute boys.” EP Bert Royal acknowledged co-ed facilities are rare “but they do exist,” including one he said he recently drove by in Denver, Colo.
Besides, Royal noted later, the show “was pitched to us as ‘Romeo and Juliet in rehab.”
“Karen [DiConcetto] and I loved the book and hooked up with the network. They’d had the book some time,” he explained.
Freeform picked up Recovery Road to series in December of ’15. Written by Royal and DiConcetto, and based on the popular young-adult novel by Blake Nelson, Recovery Road centers on Maddie (Sula), a highly functioning addict who enters rehab only after being confronted by her school guidance counselor. British actress Sula (Skins, Love & Marriage) was cast as the lead in a casting change, replacing Samantha Logan, who played the role in the original pilot. The project was developed, and the pilot ordered by and produced under Freeform’s previous ABC Family regime. The series pickup of Recovery Road was the first scripted series order for Karey Burke shortly after she joined the network as EVP Programming and Development; she put her stamp on the project with changes and a new pilot.
Royal and DiConcetto executive produce alongside Craig Piligian and Beth Miller from Pilgrim Studios, and Danielle VonZerneck.
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