This morning, ABC made its first drama pilot order for this season with a nod to a project from Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry toplined by country star Reba McEntire. It is a Southern Gothic drama set in Kentucky, which stars McEntire as a sheriff of a colorful small town.
The order follows ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey’s post-election comments at a London conference in late November that the network, known for its glitzy soaps, was looking to add more drama series that reflect the working class. “We have a lot of (dramas) that feature very well-to-do, well-educated people, who are driving very nice cars and living in extremely nice places. There is definitely still room for that… but in recent history we haven’t paid enough attention to some of the true realities of what life is like for everyday Americans in our dramas,” Dungey was quoted as saying back then.
At TCA today, I asked Dungey if that sentiment played a role in the decision to greenlight the Cherry/McEntire drama.
“The fact that it happens to be in that setting, I’m happy about that because one thing I want to do is make sure when we say we are America’s broadcasting company and that we are about diversity and inclusion in all ways that this could be part of it,” she said.
But in the end, it came down to the script, which Dungey said was great. She had been high on the idea from the start. (Dungey said she believes the pitch for the show came before the election, which saw Donald Trump win the presidency with the help of blue-collar and rural viewers.)
“Marc grew up in the south, and Reba, obviously, they had a very clear sense right out of the gate what the world, what the town would be like, what they wanted to reflect and that was something that all came from them,” she said. “What I was so excited about was I felt this was Marc right back at the height of his creative voice, something he is so clearly passionate about telling.”
In addition to looking for shows that reflect different swaths of America, which Dungey was quick to point out will “not be the main criteria”, the network is trying to lighten the mood on TV in these uncertain times.
“I think another part that we have been talking about is tonally, looking at some shows that are less dark, less edgy, more hopeful, more joyful, we have been talking about Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, Brothers & Sisters and wanting to see if we could bring some of that quality back to our air. I think Marc’s new project has a lot of humor in it — though it’s not as bright and light as Desperate Housewives — but that is something that we definitely will be looking at as more scripts come in.”