×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Disney Television Studios Makes Splashy Debut at Upfronts

Upfronts week always revolves around big reveals and highly anticipated first looks. This year, one of the most talked-about contenders to emerge was not a show but a studio.

The newly minted Disney Television Studios made a splashy debut as three of the industry’s large production entities – 20th Century Fox Television, ABC Studios and Fox 21 Television Studios – have come together under one roof following Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox.

The mantra on the Century City and Burbank lots is collaboration and cross-pollination of talent. The three companies will continue to be run with autonomy as distinct labels under the Disney Television Studios umbrella. But there is a clear expectation that the labels will share resources and information as warranted to support the larger cause of feeding successful shows to Disney’s suite of platforms.

Executives at the DTS studios have spent the past few weeks on a whirlwind get-to-know-your-colleagues tour. There have been meetings and presentations galore – perhaps a few too many all at once, some have noted.

But the goal has been for the studio executives to get to know one another and for the company’s production engines to be aware of the programming needs of the various networks and platforms from Disney Plus to FX to Freeform to Nat Geo, from ABC News to ESPN to Disney Channel. Face time is important in part because 20th TV and Fox 21, still housed on the Fox lot, remain physically separate from ABC Studios’ outpost on Disney’s Burbank lot.

On May 14, the announcement that Disney has taken full operational control of Hulu added more wind to DTS’ sails as it clears the path for Disney to manage the growing streaming platform as it sees fit. The closer association with Hulu will greatly benefit FX Networks, which isn’t part of the Disney Plus family friendly streaming platform, as well as the studios geared toward producing adult-focused primetime fare.

Among the high-profile new offerings from DTS are NBC’s Bradley Whitford comedy “Perfect Harmony,” from 20th TV, and ABC’s Cobie Smulders drama “Stumptown,” from ABC Studios.

On May 13, as Team Disney assembled in New York for upfronts, a group of about 30 senior studio executives assembled at Benno restaurant in Chelsea for a mixer that left attendees energized. Dana Walden, chairman of Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment, reinforced the collaboration message to the crowd and detailed how she courted Warner Bros. alum Craig Hunegs for months to take the leadership role as DTS president.

Leadership of the three labels has remained intact, with Jonathan Davis and Howard Kurtzman running 20th TV as presidents, Patrick Moran heading ABC Studios as president and Bert Salke at the helm of Fox 21 as president. The fact that the studio leaders and many other executives know each other well from professional and social circles has also helped the integration process. Moran spent seven years as a development executive at 20th Century Fox TV before joining ABC Studios in 2010 – which gives him an invaluable level of familiarity with his counterparts.

“You can’t look at the combination of these two companies and not feel a lot of excitement about a great future ahead,” said Kurtzman.

In planning for the integration of Disney and 21st Century Fox, Walden and her boss, Disney Television chairman Peter Rice, determined that the creative process would be best served by maintaining multiple labels rather than creating one overarching studio. “The messaging has been consistent,” Moran said. “They felt it was better to have three labels to service all of the (production needs) rather than to try to do it all under one platform.”

An early example of the all-for-one attitude was the move of former “Star” showrunner Karin Gist, who has an overall deal with 20th Century Fox TV, to become co-showrunner with Kenya Barris of ABC’s upcoming comedy “Mixed-ish,” which hails from ABC Studios. The deal came together quickly at Barris’ instigation.

“A win is a win is a win for everybody,” said Davis. “When Patrick called us, we said ‘We love Karen. We love Kenya. This would be great.’ We want everyone involved with ‘Mixed-ish’ to succeed. It’s imperative that we all work together to get the right creatives to the right shows at the right place.”

Moran credited Hunegs with setting a tone from the start that a sincere spirit of esprit de corps was essential to fulfilling the expansive vision outlined by Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger in bringing together the formidable collection of TV-related assets through the Fox transaction.

“Craig’s done a good job of making sure we’re all connected,” Moran said. “If it feels like a win for one of us it should be a win for everybody. The realignment of the studios has not been tricky. We’re all still pursuing our own projects with our own creative partners because we all bring our own histories with our producers. But if you look at the total roster of talent it’s a pretty impressive list across the three studios.”

Salke noted that after the 18-month period of waiting for the Disney-Fox deal to close, there is renewed energy in the hallways, in part because the studios are seeing the promised additional resources to make deals, chase IP and court talent.

“This is an incredible universe that Disney has put together,” Salke said. “When you see it all put together, it makes incredible sense. Hulu was the final piece.”

The studio leaders say they are all under pressure to increase their output to feed Disney’s voracious appetite for content for Disney Plus, ABC, Freeform, FX and other outlets. At same time, the three banners all intend to continue fielding shows to non-Disney networks and platforms. Both 20th TV and ABC Studios have long balanced a directive to supply hits to internal networks with the desire to maintain a diverse portfolio of business all over town.

The marching orders are daunting, but the growth initiative has been backed by bigger budgets for the three banners.

“We have been handed a very large early Christmas present in terms of financial support to be able to build something pretty great,” Salke said.

Outside of Disney’s enlarged walls, there is concern among rival networks and studios about the market heft that Disney Television Studios will command. There’s also curiosity about whether Disney will be a big enough buyer and employer of creative talent to counter the inflationary effects of the eye-popping talent deals handed out in recent years by Netflix, Amazon and the nascent Apple streaming effort.

The trio of banners in Disney Television Studios closed out upfront week with 14 new broadcast series orders and 24 returning series. All told, DTS at present produces 69 series across 16 broadcast, cable and digital platforms. But even more important than a strong tally of new shows this year was demonstrating how the company aims to make DTS more than the sum of its parts.

“This was our first development season as a collective and our results already demonstrate the scope and power of our studios,” said Hunegs. “We are committed to making Disney Television Studios the best home for creative talent in our industry, and we’re enormously encouraged by these early returns.”

(Pictured: “Mixed-ish”)

More TV

  • What | If

    Renee Zellweger and Mike Kelley on Deconstructing Fate and Consequences in 'What/If'

    SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “What/If,” streaming now on Netflix. Writer and executive producer Mike Kelley’s latest piece of dramatic storytelling is a limited series morality tale that starts with a high-powered, wealthy woman named Anne Montgomery (Renee Zellweger) offering Lisa, a young woman with a startup (Jane Levy), [...]

  • north american lake monsters by nathan

    Hulu Orders Anthology Series Based on Nathan Ballingrud's 'North American Lake Monsters'

    Hulu has greenlit a series adaptation of Nathan Ballingrud’s short story collection “North American Lake Monsters.” The untitled series will be an anthology, with the first season consisting of eight episodes. In the series, encounters with vampires, fallen angels, and other monsters force Louisiana natives to re-examine their broken lives. Mary Laws created the project [...]

  • Women in Animation, Les Femmes s’Animent

    Women in Animation, Les Femmes s’Animent Announce World Summit Lineup

      CANNES–Women in Animation (WIA) and Les Femmes s’Animent (LFA) have announced the program lineup and initial list of speakers for the third Women in Animation World Summit, which will take place June 10 in conjunction with the Annecy Intl. Animation Festival and Mifa. The summit will feature a day-long symposium of panels and discussions [...]

  • Kanye West Slams Liberals for ‘Bullying’

    Kanye West Slams Liberals for ‘Bullying’ Trump Supporters in David Letterman Interview

    The Daily Beast today published a preview of David Letterman’s interview with Kanye West — which addresses music, fashion, West’s late mother and of course his much-criticized support of President Trump — on his Netflix show, which begins streaming next Friday, May 31. The article praises the hour-long session as “not only one of the [...]

  • Michael Portillo Making ‘The Trouble With

    Michael Portillo Making ‘The Trouble With the Tory Party’ for Viacom’s Channel 5

    On the day that British Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation plans, a prominent former politician has unveiled a two-part documentary about the troubles faced by her Conservative party. Michael Portillo is a former senior Conservative politician and leadership candidate. As the starting gun is sounded on a fresh leadership race, his documentary “Portillo: [...]

  • Nickelodeon, Starzplay, Globo-Warner Bros., BBC And

    International TV Newswire: Nick News, Apple Adds Starzplay, Globo Keeps Warner Bros.

    This week’s International TV Newswire sees Nickelodeon’s influence grow in Mexico, Navratilova host a trans-athlete debate for the BBC, Globo and Warner Bros. extend in Brazil, Apple pick up Starzplay and HBO profile a polemical Spanish soccer legend. Nickelodeon Signs Mexican Influencer Nickelodeon Latin America has signed an exclusive global representation deal with popular Mexican [...]

  • Singer Adam Levine performs with Maroon

    Adam Levine Leaves 'The Voice' After 16 Seasons

    After 16 seasons on “The Voice,” Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine will not be returning to a coach’s chair when the NBC singing competition series begins its 17th edition in the fall. Levine has been a coach on the show since its inception in 2011. He will be replaced next season by Gwen Stefani. “Voice” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content