ABC Head Karey Burke Defends Broadcast’s Relevance: ‘We Know the Stakes Are High’

ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke came out in heavy defense of the broadcast network at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour on Monday, asserting its continued importance amid an industry discourse dominated by talk of pure-play streaming platforms and the traditional players launching their own subscription services.

“We know the stakes are high because broadcast really matters,” she said, adding that major networks can “move culture at a scale no other platform can.”

Touting the 150 million monthly viewers that ABC attracts across its platforms, Burke added: “And that is why brands still pay us a big premium to advertise on our air, and why competing streamers want to advertise on our air – we just won’t let them.”

On the marketing side, ABC invests “heavily” in making viewers aware of its programming, she said. Echoing Showtime programming head Gary Levine’s dig at the streamer on Friday, Burke also took a swipe at Netflix.

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“Most shows on competing platforms these days – sometimes they get a billboard on Sunset, sometimes they disappear into the sunset,” she said, to laughs from the room.

Among the numerous announcements from the morning was that ABC was picking up “The Bachelorette” for Season 16, and renewing “Bachelor in Paradise” — which premieres this evening — for Season 7. The Season 15 finale of “The Bachelorette” grew its audience 17%, year over year, in the key 18-49 demographic.

On the topic of the franchise’s creator, Mike Fleiss, who was recently accused of attacking his wife, Burke said that the situation was “resolved amicably” between the parties and therefore did not impact production of “The Bachelor” series of programs.

Burke also announced the “next generation” of ABC event series, including a hybrid live action-animation musical “The Little Mermaid,” “Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11” and “Women of the Movement,” an eight-episode limited series anthology of civil rights histories through a women-focused lens. The first installment will focus on Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till and a pioneer of the modern civil rights movement.

Addressing several individual incidents, Burke said she is waiting on the result of an investigation into sexual harassment, assault and discrimination claims from “The Rookie” star Afton Williamson.

On the topic of Constance Wu’s expletive-laden Twitter outburst in May — in which she expressed dismay about the season renewal of “Fresh Off the Boat,” tweeting that she was “so upset right now that I’m literally crying” — Burke said that there have been “ongoing conversations” with producers of the show, which goes back into production this week.

“It was made clear to us very early on that everyone took Constance at her word that she was apologetic for what she had said,” she said. “I have heard nothing about anything other than enthusiasm for everyone to get back to work.”

Fielding skepticism about whether the forthcoming “Emergence” and sci-fi programming could work on ABC, Burke first reminded the audience of the success of “Lost,” then went on to say that the upcoming Allison Tolman-starrer, which was initially developed for NBC, goes beyond its genre.

“This show in particular is so much bigger than a genre show,” said Burke. “This show, when I saw it, I honestly couldn’t believe how good it was.”

She also highlighted the creators that continue to develop for ABC, including Drew Goddard, who struck an overall deal with Disney-owned 20th Century Fox TV earlier in the year.

“I think the presumption might’ve been that he would’ve done something at the streaming platforms,” she said, noting that his first project under the deal is a comedy for ABC.