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ABC Chief: ‘Little Mermaid’ Live Musical Will Be Disney Plus Launchpad

ABC is timing its first-ever live-musical event, “The Little Mermaid,” to air just a week before the debut of Disney Plus in order to drum up attention for the hotly anticipated streaming platform.

“We wanted to launch it in November, in time to coincide with the launch of Disney Plus,” ABC network president Karey Burke told Variety. “It felt like a great promotional platform to speak to that. And I didn’t want to do a lot of musicals for the sake of doing one. What felt right was to do something that was a classic Disney title. To have the support of the Wonderful World of Disney behind this, just felt like all the stars have now aligned for us to try our first one with this particular piece.”

The live, televised “Little Mermaid,” which will combine parts of the original animated film with live performances from “Moana” star Auli’i Cravalho and others, has been scheduled to air on Nov. 5. Disney Plus becomes available to consumers on Nov. 12. According to the ABC chief, the idea of a “Little Mermaid” live-TV musical had been sitting on the back burner for a while.

“I got [to ABC] and had a strategy to more live events, and Rob Mills — who oversees live and unscripted — came to me and said, ‘Well there’s this,’ and I’d actually heard about it while I was at Freeform,” said Burke, who was previously head of original programming at the Disney-owned cable channel. The decision to revive the project came together around the 30th anniversary of the original animated Disney film, after which it was then fast-tracked.

The event will take place in a “dive-in theater” on the Disney lot. Early renderings of the stage show a long, winding set-piece that hundreds of viewers can approach, producer Hamish Hamilton showed Television Critics Assn. tour attendees on Monday. And there’s room for more such events, if “The Little Mermaid” plays to an enthusiastic audience.

“Should this be successful, which I’m pretty hopeful it will be, I think we’ll look to do it again with the right property,” said Burke.

It’s unsurprising that Disney would sync up its properties to boost awareness of its upcoming pay-TV subscription service that will challenge Netflix and other existing streamers on the market, and that Morgan Stanley analysts expect to attract 13 million subscribers by the end of 2020, and more than 130 million subscribers internationally by 2024. While Disney-controlled Hulu is currently the off-network home for previously aired episodes of ABC shows, there is room for adjusting where those secondary homes for series may be. As of now, such streaming-rights decisions are still in early talks.

“I expect shows that we have that are made decidedly more family friendly or are more in the Disney brand — Disney Plus then becomes a potential platform downstream,” said Burke. “Right now there’s no plans for the current arrangement with Hulu to change.”

Separately, when asked about the now-dropped charges against “The Bachelor” creator Mike Fleiss and whether there was value in continuing to work with a creator who has had a history of generating controversial headlines, Burke said that to best of her knowledge, there haven’t been any known incidents related to Fleiss on the set of any of “The Bachelor” or its sister shows.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure the show is safe and comfortable, a respectable work environment for all involved, and to the best of my knowledge, that has not been challenged,” she said.

Additionally, Burke expects the investigation into Afton Williamson’s claims of discrimination and assault on the set of “The Rookie” to wrap up in a few weeks.

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