Following its expansion into the cable/streaming arena with such series as SMILF, Marvel’s Runaways and Godfather of Harlem, ABC Studios has entered the unscripted space with a new Alternative Division led by Fernando Hernandez, former head of Universal TV Alternative Studios and EVP of Development and Production at Ryan Seacrest Prods.
Since being brought in by ABC Studios President Patrick Moran about 10 months ago, Hernandez has built a development slate of projects set up at networks within and outside of the Disney/ABC family. They include Best Bite Ever, a comedic cooking competition pilot for ABC headlined by American Housewife star Katy Mixon, and Ink & Paint, an eight-episode documentary series for the upcoming Disney-branded streaming service which takes a Hidden Figures look at a number of women who made many of the Disney animated classics possible with little or no recognition for their work. The goal for Ink & Paint is to be ready for the Disney streaming platform launch in late 2019, with ABC Studios also working on a second docu series foe the service.
Best Bite Ever, which is in post-production, taps into every parent’s challenge to get their kids to eat… let alone anything new and healthy. It features home cooks who believe they have what it takes to win over tiny tasters with big opinions on food. The pilot is being produced in-house with Susan House executive producing.
Ink & Paint, based on the book Ink & Paint by Mindy Johnson, is done in partnership with Sertner Productions. It tells the story of animation at Disney, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Coco and Moana, through the prism of an unsung workforce of trailblazing women who helped create some of the greatest animated movies of all time. The docu series just filmed possibly the oldest surviving animator for the doc, 108-year-old Ruthie Thompson, who started at Disney Animation in 1937 as a cel cleaner and eventual rose to become a supervising scene planner. She was interviewed at the Ink & Paint building on the Disney lot, which has been kept intact with the old machines and paints still there.
“She’s very funny and very spry, and having her come back onto the lot and be able to help us launch this story was extraordinary,” Hernandez said.
The series’ title refers to the original method of making animation which involved individual cels, which first were inked, putting on black ink to do the outlines, before they were sent to a group of painters to do the coloring. “When Walt Disney first brought on these women, a lot of them came on as inkers and painters and then moved onto being full animators and to be leads in the industry,” Hernandez said.
The Best Bite Ever was a format that was self-generated by Hernandez and his team. “I have a group called The Originals Group, which is our in-house IP incubator and accelerator, not too dissimilar to something that I did back at Universal, which is actually how World of Dance came about,” he said.
Overall, it’s a lean operation, which also includes a production executive who had worked with Hernandez before, Gareth Provan.
The division is casting a wide net, targeting a range of unscripted genres that includes everything from documentary, to game show, social experiment, dating, food, action adventure, comedy and magazine style shows.
“We’re in all genres, and it really comes down to, honestly, what myself, and Patrick, and the team believe is going to speak to an audience,” Hernandez said.
He has partnerships on projects with Ryan Seacrest Productions, Larry Wilmore’s Wilmore Films and Bob Sertner Productions — who all have deals at ABC Studios on the scripted side, as well as reality players Mission Control Media, with whom Hernandez worked on Hollywood Game Night at Universal TV, Parker Paige Media, INE Entertainment, Party Pit Productions and others
Moran first set sights on unscripted expansion about an year and a half ago. “We always ask ourselves what are we not doing? And one thing we weren’t doing was anything in the unscripted space,” he said.
Prior to joining ABC Studios, Cuban-born Fernando was head of Universal Television Alternative Studios, which he launched and ran from 2012 – 2016. During his tenure, Fernando and his team created and developed World of Dance. Other productions for NBC included the Emmy-winning Hollywood Game Night, Better Late Than Never, starring Henry Winkler, William Shatner, Terry Bradshaw and George Foreman; I Can Do That, Last Comic Standing, and Food Fighters.
Prior to that, Hernandez was EVP of Development and Production at Ryan Seacrest Prods. He was responsible for the development and production of such non-scripted series as Shahs of Sunset for Bravo and Married to Jonas for E!
He also spent a decade as executive producer on projects such as TV Land’s She’s Got The Look, ABC Family’s Venus & Serena: For Real, and MTV’s Til Death Do Us Part: Carmen & Dave; Becoming, as well as projects for VH1, TLC and MTV International.