New ABC Boss Lays Out Her Plans For the Network To Reclaim #1 Spot With Women

Karey Burke
ABC/Craig Sjodin

Karey Burke made her TCA debut as ABC Entertainment President today. Following a surprise introduction by ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, Burke shared her vision for the network, which she had wanted to work at since graduating college.

That includes ramping up and better supporting programming that attracts female viewers, which has traditionally been ABC’s core demographic.

“Whether we’ve been up or down, ABC has a long history of being No. 1 with Women. We lost that mantel this season, and I am determined to get it back,” Burke said. “Luckily, programming for women has long been a passion of mine. It’s always been my personal goal to create the best opportunities for women in front of and behind the camera, and I know what’s possible when women come together and share their vision. That’s a big part of what’s going to lead us back to the top.”

Burke later elaborated on ABC’s ratings retreat in women. “NBC just came on really strong and took that mantel away with shows like This Is Us, and we slipped a little bit. And some of our returning shows came back softer than predicted,” she said. NBC’s new series additions that draw strong female audiences include medical drama New Amsterdam. 

ABC/Eike Schroter

Burke pointed to the network putting more marketing behind The Good Doctor for the series’ January return as an example of efforts to lure back female viewers. The medical drama, one of ABC’s top performers with women, is now doing better than it was in the fall, Burke notes. (Some of the reasons for the show’s stronger midseason ratings performance likely are related to the ratings declines for its time slot rival, NBC’s Manifest, which was red hot in the fall.)

The strategy of bringing more women to ABC also has been guiding Burke’s pilot pickup choices.

“What I’m doing is what I can do now, which is choose pilots from the development that existed,” said Burke, who greenlighted two specs (Heart of Life and Nana, both from 20th TV) in addition to scripts she inherited when she joined the network in November. “And a lot of the pilots that we’ve chosen have been more female- forward than perhaps in the past year or two, that they’re not female-exclusive. They also have a lot of male appeal. But we’re just using a few more that have strong female leads and points of view.”

All of ABC’s comedy pilots picked up so far have a female lead or co-lead. That includes Nana starring Katey Sagal; Untitled Hannah Simone starring Simone; Woman Up; about two 30-something moms; and Untitled Leslie Odom Jr., as well as the recently picked up series Bless This Mess.

Most of ABC’s drama pilots also are female skewing. The Hypnotist’s Love Story has two female leads, Stumptown and the New York Undercover reboot both have a female lead. The network also has romantic dramedies The Baker and the Beauty and the Love Actually-esque Until the Wedding as well as the This Is Us-influenced Heart Of Life, inspired by the John Meyer song.

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