Three weeks after making their debut pitch to ad buyers as part of the ABC upfront at Lincoln Center, Freeform’s top execs convened talent and press for a much smaller-scaled luncheon event in New York.
The goal was to mark progress since the Disney-owned network’s January 2016 rebrand from ABC Family. President Tom Ascheim said the renamed network hit its stride with last year’s premiere of The Bold Type. With two major shows rolling out this month, Freeform is not planning to present anything during TCA summer press tour, so this was a chance to get a “health check” from the media, as Ascheim half-jokingly called it.
“When you change your name, you take a lot of grief, it turns out,” Ascheim said. “You have to find your voice. You have to find your content. You have to find your rhythm.” Echoing recent sentiments from execs at FX, HBO and other corners of the TV universe, Ascheim made the case for network brands as curators helping viewers navigate an ocean of programming. “Things have gotten a little mushy,” he said. “A lot of people are chasing the same audiences with similar programming and brands have gotten diluted and less important. There’s conventional wisdom that says, ‘In this moment in time, brands don’t matter. We think that’s exactly wrong. … Brands are super-important.”
Ascheim was asked (by Bold Type exec producer and former Cosmopolitan editor Joanna Coles) about the meltdown of Roseanne. Freeform had something of a front-row seat for the saga, sharing the stage with ABC for its full-tilt sell at Lincoln Center. But the decision-making happened elsewhere at Disney, Ascheim noted, so “I don’t have any insights.”
A reorganization put Freeform under the same ad-sales chief as ABC, Rita Ferro, a synergistic move touted during the upfront event. Even so, Ascheim shrugged off the notion of any impact from Roseanne on the cable side. “It’s sad that we’ve all gotten to the point” where the decision to yank the show hours after star Roseanne Barr’s offensive tweets is seen as surprising, Ascheim said.
Karey Burke, EVP of Programming and Development, addressed a wide range of topics, including the network’s decision to cancel Shadowhunters, which she described as “purely economic” and not based on creative issues. She hit on several new and upcoming projects that fit the mission summed up in the network’s “A Little Forward” tagline, including projects in the pipeline from Joss Whedon and Claws creator Eliot Laurence. Another one debuting this month is the first Marvel series on Freeform, Cloak & Dagger. Burke recalled a series of conversations about potential Marvel properties from the Marvel treasure chest that she explored developing — inside a corporation full of hungry mouths looking for some tasty blockbuster IP — the Cloak & Dagger comics were set up at the network. A script was “dusted off” and Burke said she “fell in love it it.”