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.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Starz Logo

    Starz Orders Horror Comedy Pilot 'Shining Vale'

    Starz has put out a pilot order for “Shining Vale,” a horror comedy which hails from “Divorce” creator Sharon Horgan and “Trial & Error” co-creator Jeff Astrof. The prospective series is about a dysfunctional family that moves from the city to a small town into a house in which terrible atrocities have taken place. But no one [...]

  • Bethenny Frankel at the showtime Emmy

    Bethenny Frankel to Exit 'Real Housewives of New York' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bethenny Frankel is stepping away from the “Real Housewives” franchise. Variety has learned exclusively that Frankel is poised to exit Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York” ahead of its upcoming twelfth season. Frankel first joined the acclaimed reality series back when it premiered back in 2008 before exiting the series in 2010 during the [...]

  • Dolly Parton

    BBC Commissions Dolly Parton Feature Documentary

    The BBC has commissioned a feature length documentary about country music legend Dolly Parton, it announced Wednesday. The documentary, tentatively titled “Dolly’s Country” will air on BBC Two this fall as part of a season of programs dedicated to country music. The broadcaster announced earlier in the day that it had acquired Ken Burns’ upcoming [...]

  • UCP to Develop Ann Shen’s 'Bad

    UCP to Develop Ann Shen’s 'Bad Girls Throughout History' as Anthology Series

    Universal Content Productions (UCP) is developing an anthology series based on Ann Shen’s book “Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World.” The project will be titled “Bad Girls,” with each episode featuring a different influential woman throughout history, including famous figures like Ada Lovelace, Rosa Parks, Mata Hari, and Ruth Bader [...]

  • Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends a

    Bolsonaro LGBTQI Outburst, Subsidy Freeze, Stirs Outrage

    Ramping up the drive into censorship in Brazil, its Minister of Citizenship, Omar Terra, has suspended a call for applications for governmental TV funding – until new criteria are established for its application. The country’s secretary for culture, Henrique Pires, who reports to Terra, has resigned in protest of the incentive freeze. The suspension, for [...]

  • Shanta Fripp Claudia Milne Jon Tower

    'CBS This Morning' Names New Director, Managing Editor and Senior Producer

    “CBS This Morning” has made three key staff appointments as the show’s new leadership team settles in. Shanta Fripp, an 18-year CBS News veteran, has been named director of the weekday broadcast. Claudia Milne has joined CBS News from ProPublica as managing editor while Jon Tower has been upped to senior broadcast producer. “I’m thrilled [...]

  • Sean Spicer DWTS

    Sean Spicer Will Make Six Figures for 'Dancing With the Stars'

    Sean Spicer could waltz away with a nice payday if he wins “Dancing With the Stars.” According to multiple sources, contestants on the ABC competition series make $125,000 for the show’s rehearsal period and their first two weeks on the air. If they make it to week three and beyond, they begin to earn additional [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content