ABC is entering the 2021-22 TV season as only one of two broadcast networks with live-action comedies on the fall schedule. The Disney-owned network has high hopes for the latest addition to its family comedy brand, a reboot of The Wonder Years, which joins The Goldbergs, The Conners and Home Economics in ABC’s signature Wednesday comedy block.
The network is also premiering the hip-hop drama Queens, which will airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. after the latest cycle of The Bachelorette.
For Craig Erwich, President, ABC Entertainment and Hulu Originals, this marks the first broadcast schedule and fall launch he has worked on since he left the No. 2 programming executive post at Fox 14 years ago. He added oversight of ABC Entertainment in December to his job running content for Hulu as part of a major restructure at Disney, which saw Karey Burke become president of 20th Television.
In an interview with Deadline, Erwich talks about his hopes for the fall schedule and how the industry has changed as broadcast comes to terms with the short linear life and longer digital afterlife of their shows.
He also touches upon ABC’s development for next season, which includes an Alaska-set drama starring Hilary Swank from Stillwater director Tom McCarthy, a Mexican-American family comedy from Solar Opposites pair Grace Parra Janney and Josh Bycel and Eva Longoria, and a multi-camera comedy from David E. Talbert and LeBron James.
This season comes after an unusual 18 months for broadcast television, which was forced to pivot its pilot process. This led to a delay in some series orders, including ABC’s August pickup of Matt Lopez’s Latinx family drama Promised Land for midseason 2021-22, where it will join new comedies Abbott Elementary and Maggie and Emmett Till limited series Women of the Movement.
Erwich discusses the evolving development processes as well as measuring broadcast success in the current environment, talks about the final season of Black-ish, the groundbreaking new cycle of Dancing With the Stars, the eventful premieres of The Good Doctor and The Conners, and addresses the future of Grey’s Anatomy, The Goldbergs and The Bachelor.
DEADLINE: How are you feeling about the upcoming fall season? Are you confident that the new shows can break through?
CRAIG ERWICH: I’m optimistic. Coming off of last season, where we were the No. 1 entertainment network, and we kept that up this summer with The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise franchise, so we’re full speed coming in to the fall and able to give our lineup a really big push. We’re really focused and I’m really excited by our new shows Queens and The Wonder Years.
DEADLINE: How is production going given the current situation with the pandemic?
ERWICH: What I’m optimistic about is the team at ABC and their ability to be flexible and innovate and navigate change because there will be changes and there will be curveballs but how we were able to return so many shows to production last year, we had a tremendous effort to get these shows up and going. I’m really excited by The Wonder Years; I’ve seen the first three episodes and I couldn’t be happier with the show.
DEADLINE: This is your first fall schedule since 2007 when you were at Fox. How have things changed in broadcast television since then?
ERWICH: What hasn’t changed is that you win by being a great home for creators and being a place where they can create their best work. The best creative work is going to push through regardless of the platform. We have a very audience-first strategy. Ultimately, it comes down to the viewer. Appointment TV still exists, just like it did back then, it’s just everyone’s appointment is not the same and we have this incredible lineup that people can access by their own choice whether it’s linear or through next day viewing on Hulu.
DEADLINE: How important is it for a show to come out of the gate strong? How are you judging performance, live ratings versus delayed viewing?
ERWICH: The first thing we do is judge the creative success of the show. I’m thrilled where a lot of our shows are. We measure the shows in a variety of ways. We’re trying to capture as much viewing as possible because we know that audiences have a lot of choice and they access a lot of this great content in different ways, so there’s plenty of different ways that we measure it. Live+35 [rating] is becoming more and important as we understand that people’s viewing habits have evolved.
DEADLINE: What’s going on with The Bachelor? Rumor is that you’re in production and have found your new Bachelor. Are you still planning to launch in January and have you found a new host yet?
ERWICH: I can’t confirm anything. Mike Fleiss and Martin Hilton and the entire Bachelor team have delivered us an incredible summer — Bachelor in Paradise was one of the most talked about shows of the summer. People are clamoring to have conversations about it. I’m really excited about Michelle [Young], I think she’s going to be an amazing Bachelorette and it’s going to be an amazing season with her at the center of the franchise.
DEADLINE: Dancing with the Stars has its first same-sex pairing with JoJo Siwa and Jenna Johnson. What’s your reaction to the decision and its reception?
ERWICH: The show has always taken pride in breaking barriers and being relevant. It’s an incredible step in the right direction. It was a great opportunity to take this step with JoJo and we’re thrilled with the decision. The reaction from the fans and the community has been really positive, it has been wonderful to see.
DEADLINE: Black-ish is coming to an end this season. What can you tease about the send-off for the show?
ERWICH: I think Black-ish is one of the most seminal shows of this last chapter of television. I don’t think any show has mined the headlines for humor and heart than that show. We have a whole plan to give it a celebratory send-off, which it deserves, through special guest stars and marketing. I think you’ll see the show really put on the pedestal at ABC as it deserves to be for this momentous final season. Each episode will have some big casting and I know that Kenya [Barris] and Courtney [Lilly] are really focused on telling the story of these characters and making sure that as this chapter of Black-ish comes to an end it has a really satisfying and fitting send-off. The show has a very special place in history.
DEADLINE: Will Yara Shahidi be back as Zoey Johnson?
ERWICH: I don’t know.
DEADLINE: What about two other long-running shows, Grey’s Anatomy and The Goldbergs? Are you close to making a decision on whether this will be the final season for them?
ERWICH: We have no decisions yet on The Goldbergs. I’m very excited and think this show really dealt with the passing of George Segal — he gets a tribute in the season opener that I think it is going to really resonant with the fans. They really honored him and the characters in a Goldbergs-esque way. It’s a proud moment for the show and us and it’s a great episode.
In terms of Grey’s Anatomy, we’re thrilled to have it on the lineup. It’s a gift. As long as all of the producers and Ellen [Pompeo] feel like there are meaningful stories to tell, we’re going to continue to do the show.
DEADLINE: The Conners is opening Season 4 with another live episode. Will it be bigger and take more risks than the first one on the night of the New Hampshire primary? You already announced virtual appearances by fans.
ERWICH: I think the audience will be surprised. Beyond the live event, I think The Conners takes risks in its storytelling on a weekly basis. The subject matter that they tackle, the characters that inhabit that show, the commentary that is delivered in humor, I would look forward to a great episode.
DEADLINE: What about your other returning shows? Anything that will surprise fans?
ERWICH: I’m really excited about the season premiere of The Good Doctor, the first episode really packs a wallop in terms of some twists and turns. I’m really excited about this season of Home Economics, we only aired seven episodes last year so in a way this is kind of a new season. I thought the show was very strong creatively and it’s ready to bloom this year so I’m looking forward to that.
We’re leaning into the power of broadcast television. Broadcast TV affords not just tremendous opportunities but continues to play an important role in people’s lives. I’m really proud that five of our shows are from BIPOC creators, diversity is a pillar of our strategy and seeing this batch of new shows be a product of that is very satisfying. We have more work to do but I’m excited.
DEADLINE: What will this year’s development season look like? How are you combining the traditional model with a year-round development process?
ERWICH: We’re ready to make pilots and material as they’re ready. We want to serve the creators and the material versus just our schedule. One thing we’re excited about in terms of the pitches is that diversity is key to this, it’s our strategy, it’s not just year-round development, it’s year-round development of diverse content. Five out of five our new shows come from BIPOC creators and if being open for business creatively year-round helps bring more people into the final, then that’s what we’re going to do.
DEADLINE: Have you heard enough pitches? There’s been some talk that the number of broadcast pitches this year is fewer than ever before.
ERWICH: I’m not really focused on the volume of pitches, compared to the past. We’re focused on putting the right shows into development that we know will delight our viewers next fall as well getting the new shows up and running. But, so far, I’m very happy with the creative materials that are coming into focused.
DEADLINE: Are you expecting to order more pilots soon?
ERWICH: Nothing to share right now.
DEADLINE: Any movement on the reboot of LA Law?
ERWICH: Nothing to share right now.
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