The traditional broadcast pilot season took a major hit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic with only one pilot, CBS’ B Positive, completed before production shutdown.
ABC was among the networks that decided to go straight-to-series on a couple of projects with the Disney-owned network ordering David E. Kelley drama Big Sky and Kari Lizer’s multi-camera comedy Call Your Mother.
ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke, speaking at Disney’s Virtual Roadshow, lifted the lid on how the pandemic impacted pilot season and its returning shows, revealed that it will move into production on some of its shutdown pilots and discussed the “silver lining” lessons that the network will apply going forward.
“The pandemic disrupted the traditional pilot season in a way that we couldn’t have predicted but we were very well prepared,” she said.
Call Your Mother, a Sony Pictures TV/ABC Studios-produced comedy starring Kyra Sedgwick as an empty nester mom who moves closer to her family, was one of a number of ABC pilots that received two back-up scripts after the shutdown hit.
Burke said that these back-up scripts helped the network “see more about the life of these series” before making a decision. She added that the extra scripts will also help it “make wiser choices as we ultimately do go into production on some of these pilots”.
Other pilots ordered by ABC earlier this year include drama Rebel, starring Katey Sagal, thirtysomething sequel thirtysomething(else), Harlem Kitchen, starring Delroy Lindo, and single-camera comedy Home Economics starring Topher Grace.
ABC under Burke has been trying to get away from relying entirely on the traditional pilot season, and the former Freeform boss said that the pandemic meant it was able to “adopt” a straight-to-series strategy for its “stronger pieces of development” like Big Sky, a cop drama from A+E Studios and 20th Century Fox that stars Kylie Bunbury and Katheryn Winnick, and Call Your Mother.
“We already have many scripts in the pipeline for those shows that are ready to go and will be up and running [alongside] the returning shows,” Burke added.
Last month, the network also renewed eight more series, including freshman shows Stumptown and mixed-ish, joining the likes of Grey’s Anatomy, Station 19 and The Good Doctor. Burke said that as a result of the pandemic, it opened virtual writers’ rooms for these shows much earlier than usual. This, she added, would allow these shows to “use this time to be very well prepared when production does get up and running so we won’t hit that natural squeeze that sometimes happens when shows are trying to scramble and get back on their feet with new material”.
Burke called this a “silver lining”. “We feel like there are good things going forward from this process that we will apply to development from here on out,” she added.