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Freeform’s Tara Duncan on ‘Single Drunk Female,’ ‘Cruel Summer’ and Her Vision for the Network

Tara Duncan Freeform
Freeform/Jabari Jacobs

When it comes to Freeform’s young adult-oriented programming, “relatable” is the name of the game.

Network president Tara Duncan, who stepped into the top spot at Freeform last June — and no thanks to the pandemic, has still not set foot in the network’s Burbank offices during her tenure — sees the cabler as a destination for stories that “authentically reflect and speak to the Gen Z and millennial experience.”

“I really have a priority of making that seen both in front of and behind the camera,” she told Variety. “I think what we have in this latest slate of shows are stories that I think are really going to resonate with the audience because they’re tapping into something that feels really true, and real. And we know that because we’re really building off of the stories of the creators themselves, really empowering them to tell stories that they feel is relevant and has made a meaningful chapter in their lives.”

That includes a series order for the comedy “Single Drunk Female,” about an irreverent alcoholic forced to move back in with her mother, written and created by Simone Finch. “Girls” alum Jenni Konner is exec producing alongside “Russian Doll’s” Leslye Headland, who is directing the pilot.

“This is a story about a woman who is grappling with sobriety and on a journey to figuring out her life and figuring out what the things were that she was running from and trying to define what she should be running towards, but also in a very relatable setting of a young woman leaving the big city and returning back home to her suburban roots,” said Duncan.

Then there’s Jessica Biel-produced psychological thriller “Cruel Summer,” one of the network’s “higher concept shows,” said Duncan, which contains dual storylines and “is a real ambitious season for us.”

The series follows the lives of two women, one a popular girl with a charmed life, and the other a “nerdy wannabe” accused of being involved in the disappearance of the former. Freeform announced Friday that “Cruel Summer” premieres with a two-hour event on April 20.

With Gen Z viewers watching “Riverdale” and “Criminal Minds” on Netflix and tuning in to TV on demand, there is perhaps less of an awareness of which networks originated some of their favorite shows. But Duncan is not particularly worried about younger audiences finding Freeform’s series. (The network’s series air on Hulu the day after premiering on linear.)

“As we try to capture the spirit of that generation, I really feel our stories and our shows are just going to feel distinct within the ecosystem,” said Duncan. “We have a very specific lens that is radically inclusive and optimistic, and ultimately, brave. So I really feel as long as we stay true to that ethos, the audience will really gravitate towards our content.”

Freeform said Thursday that it had picked up the pilot to Phoebe Robinson’s screen adaptation of her book, “Everything’s Trash But It’s Okay,” which echoes Duncan’s strategy of wanting to empower storytellers of this generation.

“Phoebe obviously already has a full following and such a rich and distinctive voice,” she said. “This show will follow a character loosely based on herself who is having a journey in adulthood and figuring out who she is and what’s next. I love that it’s an authentic story from Phoebe’s point of view and the journey of the character is one that I think is just going to be really relatable but also hilarious and fun.”

Viewers have continued to come back for “The Bold Type,” about a trio of friends, played by Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee and Meghann Fahy,  working at a Cosmopolitan-type magazine as they navigate life in their twenties. The final season premieres in the spring,

The show is ending “because the story is just organically coming to a close,” said Duncan. “We’ve had an opportunity to live in the lives of these characters. We’ve seen them grow and evolve. And it feels like we’re just coming to the natural end of their of their chapter.”

Among Freeform’s other announcements Friday are the Season 2 premiere of drama “Motherland: Fort Salem,” which hits the screen in the summer, and the second season of “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay” on April 8 with two back-to-back episodes. “Good Trouble” and “Grown-ish” will return with additional episodes over the summer.