Year-round development for the broadcast networks became something of a buzz phrase during Covid as the likes of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC battled the pandemic to get new shows on the air.
But plans were afoot at a number of these linear networks before the world changed in March 2020 to try and become less reliant on the traditional pilot parade.
ABC is now refreshing its plans to introduce clear first and second cycle development routes for shows to air in the fall and midseason as the industry comes out of the pandemic. Essentially, its first cycle development is looking for shows for fall and its second cycle is searching for midseason series.
Simran Sethi, EVP, Programming and Content Strategy, ABC Entertainment tells Deadline that it is promoting these cycles to clarify how it eyes development moving forward.
“We really tried to create that nomenclature to separate ourselves from this idea of year-round development, which I think in a lot of circumstances historically has just kind of been endless and shapeless, and ours is very strategically pointed,” she said.
For instance, last month, ABC handed a pilot order to a drama series from Drew Goddard, based on French detective drama HIP (High Intellectual Potential).
The project is being targeted for a potential fall 2023 launch as one of the first to come out of its “first cycle” of development.
Deadline understands that Goddard project, which comes from his Goddard Textiles and ABC Signature, is one of two or three that are being lined up for pilot orders with the others having a mid-October script delivery deadline.
“It’s about a first cycle and batch of pilots like the Drew Goddard [project], which will be for fall of 2023 and we’ll continue with those pickups over the course of the fall,” said Sethi.
She added that the number of pilots is somewhat “fluid” and depends on the material that comes in with the number of pilot orders being spread evenly over fall and midseason cycles.
But it’s clear that the linear networks will not return to the pre-pandemic levels of pilot orders and will be hoping for a higher hit rate for the ones that they do order.
Once the fall pilot orders are made, Sethi will then turn her focus to the midseason 2023-24 crop. That “second cycle” will start sometime around January.
She points to The Company You Keep, starring and exec produced by Milo Ventimiglia as an example of a “second cycle” project. The project, which is based on a Korean format, was handed a pilot order in March 2022, a series order in August 2022 and will debut midseason on ABC at the start of 2023.
Sethi says that the project wouldn’t have worked in the traditional system because of Ventimiglia’s commitment to This Is Us.
“The Company You Keep and Milo is the definition of why we do this. Milo would not have been available to shoot with us during a traditional pilot season because he was wrapping This Is Us so because we waited for a second cycle for him, we were able to have a new show with him this coming season, which is the first season after This Is Us season ended, which is really exciting. That’s one of the big reasons this is an advantageous strategy for us,” she added.
There are question marks over how the two cycles, which essentially keep projects in various stages of development longer than before the old pilot beauty parade in May, will affect talent.
But ABC believes that flexibility will allow it to entice stars that may have been shooting other projects such as feature films or limited series and will tie them in on a case-by-case basis.
One hot title that Sethi hasn’t decided which cycle it will land in yet is the Ally McBeal sequel series. Deadline revealed in August that the network was in the early stages of developing a follow-up, which is believed to focus on a young Black woman who joins the firm. Karin Gist is writing and exec producing.
Sethi said it was a “super exciting” title and that Gist has a “new and meaningful take on it”.
She said the network hasn’t decided which cycle it would sit in. “A lot of what the second cycle is about it’s about making sure each particular project has the time it needs in order to be what the creators are hoping for and what talent we want associated with it,” she added.
Elsewhere, ABC is buoyed by the success of Abbott Elementary, which scored three Emmy wins including Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for creator and star Quinta Brunson and Outstanding Supporting Actress for Sheryl Lee Ralph.
The show, which returned on September 21, has already been handed a full second season order.
Sethi said that Abbott has “re-invigorated us to be reminded that a broadcast comedy can garner such a massive audience and be a critical hit can be so popular for viewer”.
She added that the show has helped ABC evolve its comedy brand and lean into “family feeling” shows. “One thing that it gave us was that it has evolved the ABC brand to not just do family comedy but family feeling comedy. I think you get that with a lot of these office-set piece shows, it’s your work family. It allows you to tell really heartwarming stories just through a different lens and I do think that it has helped us evolve our brand in that way. It’s not just your traditional view of adults and children that mean family. It’s also the family who create around yourself.”
Earlier this year, the network passed on Josep, starring comedian Jo Koy. It said at the time that it still wants to get a comedy with Koy on the air and is working with him to do that.
“We’re still talking about that,” said Sethi. “We’re big fans of Jo Koy. I think his voice is very special. He absolutely has the hallmarks of that great sitcom personality.”
For midseason, ABC also has Not Dead Yet, based on the book Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up, starring Gina Rodriguez.
However, ABC will not be focusing on animation. Last year, it put an animated adaptation of Baratunde Thurston’s memoir How To Be Black into development with Black-ish showrunner Courtney Lilly and exec produced by Laurence Fishburne, but the project didn’t move forward.
“We’re always curious about ways to expand the comedy form – but that one didn’t. Animation right now doesn’t seem to be what are our audience is really craving. I think there’s a ton of great animation produced all over the place and it feels like where our sweet spot is, is really those family feeling comedies and so we’re focused on that. I love that book though,” added Sethi.
All of this comes as ABC gears up to launch Hilary Swank-fronted drama series Alaska Daily. The show, which launches on October 6, stars Swank as a journalist who moves to Alaska for a fresh start after a career-killing misstep, and finds redemption personally and professionally joining a daily metro newspaper in Anchorage.
It comes from Spotlight and Stillwater director Tom McCarthy. It is the filmmaker’s first broadcast network project, having previously written the pilot of Showtime’s Roger Ailes miniseries The Loudest Voice, and executive produced and directed select episodes of Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.
Sethi is hopeful that it will attract audiences “because it definitely feels like it has a different flavor”.
“There’s a workplace. There are romances. There are workplace dynamics, workplace relationships that are gold that feels very in line with Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19. There’s a compelling mystery that’s super propulsive and entertaining and at the same time, I think Tom’s done an incredible job of keeping that entertaining tone but still shining a light on the important work that journalists do as the frontline to exposing flaws in our systems,” she said.
The first season focuses on the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) in Alaska. “There’s a murder mystery. But underneath it is an exploration of the systemic flaws that have led to this crisis. What excites me about broadcast is that we can tell those important stories and do it in a way that that’s super entertaining. That and it also has a case of a week element to it. It’s about broadcast as a haven for those characters that our audiences want to live with. We definitely have those procedural elements to our show, but also the hallmark of ABC drama is those characters that you want to live with for 19 seasons or one.”