“The scheduling team has been burning the midnight oil, really since March, coming up with all sorts of contingencies,” Burke tells TheWrap
The broadcast TV schedule has started to take shape for the fall, but given the realities of the COVID era, even the best laid plans are far from guaranteed.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke said of unveiling her network’s fall schedule while the coronavirus pandemic leaves so much still up in the air. “Anyone that’s confident right now I think is not speaking truth.”
The network shared its full fall schedule on Wednesday, and while it is anchored by two of the network’s biggest unscripted franchises — “Dancing With the Stars” and the delayed season of “The Bachelorette” — which may be on a quicker path to return, it also includes many scripted series that still have no concrete timeline for a return to production.
“This announcement today is really about sharing our thinking, and giving us something to work towards and generating the inertia that we need to launch the fall slate,” Burke said. “And if we discover down the line that we need to make adjustments, then we will. And we do have contingency plans — the scheduling team has been burning the midnight oil, really since March, coming up with all sorts of contingencies. So while we’re not hopeful that we’ll have to use them, we will if we need to.”
ABC is also in the unique position of having the Emmys broadcast this year, which just announced Jimmy Kimmel as returning host and remains locked into the September 20 date. There’s no question the ceremony won’t be the typical star-studded awards show, but what exactly it will look like, Burke says she doesn’t know.
“Jimmy and the team are hard at work, really, on both options,” Burke said. “On what an in-person ceremony might look like and what a virtual ceremony might look like. Who better to host than someone who has already made that pivot with his own show and knows how to maximize the entertainment value in any format.”
“I feel comfortable that we’ll be able to pull off a wildly entertaining show whatever the production realities look like,” she continued.
That cautious contingencies-upon-contingencies approach has emerged as a running theme across all of the industry as production looks to start ramping back up in the coming months. But for the broadcast networks still adjusting after COVID-19 derailed their typical development cycle, the fall is fast approaching.
ABC has just two new scripted series debuting this fall, David E. Kelley’s “Big Sky” and Kari Lizer’s “Call Your Mother.” Neither were able to complete the pilot process — “Big Sky” was just days away from starting production when the coronavirus outbreak hit– but with a schedule to fill, Burke said decisions had to come down to those showrunners’ track records and other back-up material like additional scripts.
The dozen or so other pilots that were in development remain in contention for a pickup later in the season. The network has commissioned additional material on all of them and at least some number of them will move forward with production, but with the fall schedule in locked up, Burke says they’re looking at picking up only “one or two” more.
“Now that we’ve set the schedule, we’re going to turn our attention to evaluating that material, and once production realities start to become clear, we’ll make decisions about going forward on those,” Burke said. “Some of them could be considered early pilots for next fall.”
Burke has made an effort to increase off-cycle development at the network in the past, plans which have now been accelerated by the pandemic.
“Our strategy unfolded whether we liked it or not. COVID really forced us to be thinking in a really year-round way this year,” she said. “And while I hope COVID goes away, I hope the year-round strategy continues.”