ABC, along with its teen-focused corporate sibling Freeform, presented some of their upcoming slate at the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour Tuesday. Panels for new series included Scott Foley’s return to ABC’s air with spy caper “Whiskey Cavalier,” Elizabeth Meriwether’s “New Girl” follow-up “Bless This Mess,” and two series with high-profile celebrities as producers — Marcia Clark’s legal drama “The Fix” and Eva Longoria’s Miami-set soap “Grand Hotel.”
This also represented ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke’s introduction to the press in her new role; she took over from former head Channing Dungey in November. Burke, who moved over from Freeform, was largely speaking about programming in which she hadn’t had an active hand: “That decision was made before I got here,” she remarked at one point. “I’m going to be saying that a lot today.”
But Burke stated vision for ABC includes, going forward, a renewed emphasis on winning back female viewers and reclaiming ABC’s recently-lost status as number-one among women. She also plans to further amp up inclusivity and stories about underrepresented communities. “I’m quite aware that we have our work cut out for us,” she told the press. “We lost our mantle this season and I’m determined to get it back.”
Here are 5 things we learned from today’s session.
More “Trouble” on the Way for Freeform
Freeform, which began the day, announced a second season for its “Fosters” spinoff, “Good Trouble” — seemingly a surprise for the cast, who were in attendance. Freeform’s focus on inclusivity and politically resonant programming rolled on with a look at its upcoming “Party of Five” reboot, which reframes the story’s five parentless children as a story about immigration. (This time, the parents have been deported, not killed, which Amy Lippman, creator of the original and reboot, said Tuesday is “real, it happens every day.”)
Hello to Burke, Goodbye to “Modern Family”
In her first ABC executive session, Burke officially confirmed the widely-rumored end of “Modern Family” with the 2019-2020 season, which will be the Emmy winner’s 11th. Also, she hinted that a renewal of “The Conners,” the sitcom that arose from the ashes of the ill-fated “Roseanne” reboot, was on track to be announced soon. While Burke couldn’t officially share news about the fate of “Grey’s Anatomy” — hinting that it would likely return — and spoke highly of “The Bachelor,” much of her presentation was focused less on recent blue-chip shows than on ABC’s more distant past. Burke began by recalling ABC’s 1980s risk-taking and category-defying successes, including “Moonlighting,” “The Wonder Years,” and “Thirtysomething.” Her goal, she told reporters, was to make a slipping ABC into “the best home in television for creators to tell their stories,” with a special focus on reclaiming the network’s status as the number-one network among women.
Focus on the Oscars
Burke faced several questions about the upcoming Academy Awards broadcast — one that has been the subject of increasingly pitched speculation after the Academy parted ways with planned host Kevin Hart, failing to name a replacement. The hostless Oscars generated reports and rumors about components that may be dropped from the ceremony in order to hit a three-hour running time. The seeming chaos, Burke told reporters, had helped make the show a trending topic: “The lack of clarity around the Oscars has kept the Oscars in the conversation,” she said. “People really care!” Balancing the desires of core awards-show devotees with the wider public the show is top-of-mind for Burke, though she expressed hope that a number of blockbusters among the nominees would boost the show. “Awards shows’ ratings are down across the board,” she said, “so it is a challenge, and one we have to stay vigilant about.”
Marcia Clark’s Return — or Revenge?
“Is this a revenge fantasy?” Marcia Clark asked in the reel for the new series “The Fix.” “Maybe!” Clark, the former prosecutor known for her role in the O.J. Simpson trial, co-created this limited series. “The Fix” follows another former prosecutor who is drawn into the chaos of a celebrity trial when a previously acquitted celebrity, one she failed to prove guilty, is accused of murder again. (If it returns for a second season, the show will take on a new case with much of the same cast.) The notion that Clark — who came in for serious re-evaluation after 2016’s documentary “O.J.: Made in America” and limited series “The People v. O.J. Simpson” — is writing herself a new ending to the O.J. saga seemed apparent, and Clark isn’t shy about sharing her opinions on the legal system. Speaking about celebrity defendants, Clark said “there’s a star power they bring to the courtroom and it does skew how the jury reads the evidence. The playing field is not level.” Robin Tunney, playing the prosecutor character, told journalists that her character does differ from the real-life Clark in one crucial way: “Marcia stood and fought. My character ran away. My character let that loss define her. Marcia didn’t.” Not that it was easy: Clark said the Simpson trial “made me a much more depressed person. It was staring into the face of a divide in this country… Watching justice being thwarted on a daily basis.”
Jimmy Kimmel’s Big TV Break, Revealed
Jimmy Kimmel made a surprise appearance to introduce Burke at the Alphabet network’s portion of the press tour — but that wasn’t the only revelation.
In quite the coincidence, Burke developed a “Party of Five” remake for Freeform before moving over to ABC — and as she revealed from the TCA podium, Kimmel credits his entire TV career to the original incarnation of “PO5” (which ran on Fox from 1994 to 2000).
Variety asked Kimmel to elaborate, and here’s how he responded on Twitter: “When I was a young radio sports guy at KROQ, I had a side job punching up Fox network promo scripts. A guy named Geoff Calnan asked me to look at a promo script for a new show (‘Party of Five’). I told him the script looked good and I had nothing to add to it.
“He asked me to come in anyway. Someone then called and asked for my shirt size. I assumed it was because they were going to give me a T-shirt. When I got to Fox, they sat me in a makeup chair. I still didn’t know why.
“They brought me on set and, for the next four hours, had me shoot this promo I didn’t know I was the “star” of. They told me later they had a backup standing by, in case I wasn’t good. When the promo aired, it got a “Cheers” in TV Guide and now, I am America’s sweetheart.”
Kimmel’s memory even earned a “thank you” on Twitter from “Party of Five” star Scott Wolf, who wrote: “Before Jimmy yelling at people: ‘The Best Show You’re Not Watching.’ After Jimmy yelling: Golden Globe and 6 Seasons. Thank you @jimmykimmel”
— Scott Wolf (@scottwolf) February 5, 2019
Someone uploaded the Kimmel promo on YouTube, and although it’s not a perfect video copy, here’s a glimpse at the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” host’s TV debut — hawking Fox’s “Party of Five” in 1995 (complete with his “Jimmy the Sports Guy” Brooklyn accent):