Freeform’s Karey Burke, executive vice president of programming and development, tells Variety that concluding “Pretty Little Liars” after Season 7 has been the game plan for years.
“I came in knowing that this was the plan, and I’ve been here a little under two years,” Burke says. “It’s long been the feeling with the creative forces.”
Here, Burke tells Variety why “Pretty Little Liars” is ending and what’s next for the network — plus, she clears up those long-gestating “PLL” movie rumors.
What factors went into the decision to end “Pretty Little Liars” after seven seasons?
They were entirely creative. It’s rare that you have a chance to send a series out on top, which the feeling very much was that this would achieve. It ultimately comes down to [showrunner] Marlene [King] and her vision, and her sense of where the natural place for the narrative to end was, and this was that. Knowing that there was an ending point really gave her and [producers] Oliver [Goldstick] and Joe [Dougherty] and Charlie Craig creative license to build very carefully toward something. Rarely in television do you get the chance to do that. I think they did wonders with it.
What were the conversations like with the cast?
They’ve been phenomenal. They’re just great. I haven’t spoken to any of them today. I think they’re thrilled for the opportunity the show has given them and they’ve formed an amazing family. It’s bittersweet. I think they’re all excited for their next chapters.
About a year ago, Marlene and Shay Mitchell told me that a movie and an eighth season were “very possible.” Any chance for a “Pretty Little Liars” movie, or is this really the end?
Oh no, this is really the end. The community surrounding the show is very protective over it, as they should be because it’s a show that the narrative is built on mystery and secrets, so I think that everybody was being very protective of the destiny of the show. I think the reason there has been speculation is because I think the people involved love doing the show. It’s not a show that really anybody wanted to leave or wanted to end. I think the community around the show has formed a wonderful family who would want to continue to work together, as long as it made sense for the story. As much as there’s a lot of wishful thinking and speculation surrounding anything like this, this has been the understood and agreed-upon natural finishing point.
Could there ever be a revival? Perhaps another season of “Pretty Little Liars” with a totally different cast?
Right now, Marlene is completely focused on “Famous In Love,” as are we. One hundred percent of her and our efforts are going into launching that. As “PLL” waves goodbye, “Famous In Love” says hello. It is its own wonderful and different entity from “Pretty Little Liars.” While it’s vintage Marlene King and her voice, it’s a very different tone and I think we’ll completely satisfy “PLL” fans and yet give everybody the chance to exhale a little bit. What the future holds [for “Pretty Little Liars”], we don’t know yet, but it’s not our focus right now.
How will the series finale in spring wrap up the story for the fans?
I think they will be glad that they stayed on the ride. It’s mind-blowing, it’s provocative, it’s everything the audience has come to expect from the show. It’s unexpected, and completely and totally satisfying.
I know that somebody dies in tomorrow night’s Season 7A finale. How do you compare the midseason finale to other big “PLL” moments?
It’s a biggie!
Is there a chance that one of the main five Liars could be killed off?
I cannot comment on that! In Rosewood, anything can happen.
“Pretty Little Liars” really helped define the network. You have a ton of new projects in development. With “PLL” going off the air, what are you excited about next?
It’s been such an important part of our history and really put us on the map as a scripted network. It’s dominated social media. When we re-branded, we decidedly and purposely re-branded with “PLL” and launched Freeform in January on the night of that season premiere. As we move into the next phase of Freeform, we are likewise doing that with what we feel will be a very good show with us and using “PLL” to launch “Famous In Love.” That’s a strategy that we’ve been working on for a long time — making sure that as one chapter ends, another begins. When we launched Freeform in January, we also launched “Shadowhunters” after “Pretty Little Liars,” which quickly became our biggest premiere in history and is the biggest show behind “PLL.” I think [“Famous In Love”] will shift into being our most-watched drama — hopefully very quickly and easily. “Beyond” is coming in January and that is much anticipated and something we’ve been working on for a long time. It’s a nice mix for us of the family drama genre, which we’ve done so well in, and the wondrous supernatural saga feeling that we’re having success with in “Shadowhunters.”
You also have “The Bachelor” spinoff coming up. Will you be focusing more on reality TV?
In a month’s time, we have “Ben and Lauren: Happily Ever After,” followed by “The Letter,” both of which are very, very big unscripted shows. We’ve put our toe in the water in this space before, and we feel that these two shows are big brand-defining shows for us in the unscripted space, just as “PLL” was in the scripted space. There are a lot of big things that we’re very excited about. We are certainly going to miss our “PLL” family, but we think we have a pretty strong bench.