ABC kicked off the post-strike return of its scripted series last week with the network’s three comedies, one of which, flagship Abbott Elementary, received an early Season 4 renewal just a couple of days later. Following his TCA session on Saturday and ahead of the rollout of ABC’s drama lineup next week, Disney Television Group President Craig Erwich spoke with Deadline about the effects from the dual Hollywood strikes which are the reason the new seasons of the broadcast scripted series are premiering in midseason and the launch of most new scripted shows, including ABC’s High Potential, was pushed to 2024-25.
ABC has not ordered pilots this pilot season. Erwich, who oversees ABC Entertainment, Hulu Originals, Disney Branded Television and Freeform, addressed whether the network would do pilot or straight-to-series pickups this year for other shows to join Drew Goddard’s High Potential next season. As part of the network’s modified development model, ABC’s projects are being timed to target two launch pads, one in fall and one in spring.
More from Deadline
This season, ABC has only two drama series airing at 10 PM — a time period where the genre was once a staple — The Good Doctor and Station 19. That is down from four at the start of the 2022-23 season. With the viability of the hour on broadcast TV questioned industry-wide, Erwich explains why ABC is leaning into news and unscripted fare in the time slot. He also speaks of the overall mix of scripted and reality on the schedule.
Deadline recently did a report on the slew of broadcast series ending after seven seasons this year amid challenging economic realities of rising costs and declining linear ratings. Erwich discussed the decisions to end ABC’s series in the group, Station 19 and The Good Doctor. He also addressed the post-strike cancellations of Home Economics, The Rookie: Feds and decision not to go forward with The Good Lawyer pilot, the future of The Conners, now in its sixth season, and whether renewal talks about a 21st season of Grey’s Anatomy, the longest running medical drama on TV, have started.
Additionally, Erwich spoke of 9-1-1‘s arrival to ABC after six seasons on Fox (which has spinoff 9-1-1: Lone Star) and the prospect of more collaborations with Ryan Murphy on ABC and as well as on Hulu where the prolific creator has a legal drama starring Kim Kardashian.
At Hulu, Erwich also teased the new Dan Fogelman drama starring Sterling K. Brown and addressed the recent cancellations of The Great and How I Met Your Father.
He also gave a production status update on the sixth and final season of The Handmaid’s Tale and confirmed that the Only Murders In the Building trio of Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez will kick off Season 4 with a trip to Los Angeles before returning to The Arconia.
DEADLINE: ABC in May postponed pickup decisions on The Rookie: Feds, Home Economics as well as The Good Lawyer pilot to see how things go with the strike. Ultimately all of them were canceled in the fall. The Rookie‘s Alexi Hawley said on Saturday that there were bigger factors in play, including consolidation and streaming wars. Talk about how you made those cancellation decisions and the strike‘s impact?
ERWICH: The strike for sure paused everything, there’s no denying that. We didn’t know when production would resume and therefore didn’t have a complete line of sight into our schedule and couldn’t pick up certain shows until we knew that.
For each of these shows, there were individual factors that went into each of these decisions, but we’re really proud to have had each of them. I think they’re all individually excellent, with tremendous people in front of them and behind the camera.
It’s always hard when there’s a work stoppage, it’s painful for everybody. But we do launch shows year-round, and we’ll continue to be fluid like that; it allowed us to really focus on High Potential for the fall on ABC, which is a show that we’re extremely excited about and really proud of.
DEADLINE: You mentioned High Potential. This season, you have one new (to ABC) scripted show, 9-1-1. So far, High Potential is the only new scripted series for next season. Could you introduce more new scripted shows next season, are you planning to order pilots between now and the summer and how many?
ERWICH: We order pilots year-round because we launch shows year-round. There’s a long time between now and the fall and now and March. We don’t only focus on the fall. We’ve been very, very successful at ABC by picking one or two shows every fall and another one-two for midseason. That’s how we launched Will Trent last season, which was one of our most successful launches. We know that midseason is an incredible time, we have the Oscars to promote new shows and that’s how we got Abbott up and running a year and a half ago.
As I said on Saturday, the key for us is being able to be in business with the best talent possible. So we have to be flexible about our schedules as to when they’re available. And we know that people want to watch shows year-round, so that’s why it’s a year-round process.
DEADLINE: Are you doing pilot or straight-to-series orders this year? Budgets likely already have been set so do you have a number of what you might order?
ERWICH: We don’t have a set number. It’s really about, what are our needs? And then, what is the excellent material that’s available to us? We will continue to make pilots as we always have; I do believe in pilots. There may be cases where we go straight-to-series on things, but those are individual decisions based on the very specific creative circumstances of each of those shows and what each of those shows needs in the development process to be fully creatively realized, because for us it’s always about quality versus quantity.
DEADLINE: But there could be more new scripted ABC shows for midseason 2025 that you haven’t ordered yet?
ERWICH: Certainly, there’s certainly time to do that.
DEADLINE: In the past couple of months ABC also made decisions to end Station 19 and The Good Doctor, both after seven seasons. The Good Doctor executive producer David Shore addressed that a little at TCA but can you talk about the balance of business versus creative when you have to make those calls?
ERWICH: On The Good Doctor, I’ve loved working with David. I have had the honor now of working with him twice; I was at Fox when he did House. David has reinvented the medical franchise twice through signature characters that will always be associated with the best of the genre and the best of television. In the case of The Good Doctor, we wanted to give David and his team the opportunity to write a proper ending to this series which is beloved to ABC viewers and beloved to us as well. It’s been an incredible journey with Dr. Shaun [Murphy]. It’s going to be a very heartfelt farewell, and we’re really looking forward to it.
DEADLINE: And Station 19? There has been speculation about one paramedic show, 9-1-1, coming to ABC and another, Station 19, going away, a possible connection between the two. Or is it just hard to sustain shows beyond six-seven seasons?
ERWICH: Well, every show has its own journey so to speak. In the case of Station 19, it was time to bring that story to an end. I love Station 19, and I think what’s amazing about Station 19 is that it was yes, a spinoff of Grey’s. But it really became its own show that stood on its own creatively and was fully realized and unique unto itself, and we’ve been very proud to have it on the air. I’m proud to be in business with Shonda [Rhimes] on that show.
DEADLINE: Speaking of Grey’s Anatomy, you said on Saturday that the show “creatively is as strong as it’s ever been.” Have you started renewal conversations with the studio yet? This is usually the time where the network starts those talks with ABC Signature.
ERWICH: Right now we’re really focused on the momentous 20th season of Grey’s Anatomy, which is still amazing to say and is amazing to celebrate. You’ll see that celebration on air, both in terms of the stories that they’re telling which continue to be of the highest quality and how we celebrate a show that is so iconic and so associated with ABC and one that we’re just so honored to have. It’s helped define the network over the last 20 seasons.
DEADLINE: Are you open, Is there a chance for another spinoff from Grey’s? There’s been two pretty successful so far with Private Practice and Station 19.
ERWICH: We’re always open to new and different iterations on any of our most key franchises and our most realized shows, which Grey’s is one of them.
DEADLINE: The Conners also is hitting that six-season mark which has become a hard hurdle to overcome, mostly over rising budgets. Have you decided yet if this is going to be the final season?
ERWICH: In March we’re going to have the 100th episode of The Conners which is incredible. I was actually at the cake-cutting for the 100th episode, which was an honor in itself. And [star and executive producer] Sara Gilbert had a copy of the 100th episode script of the Conners as well as a 100th episode script of the original franchise which it was based on [Roseanne], something very rarely done in television. The Conners is an amazing show, it’s ABCs No.1 comedy in total viewers, and we’re really excited about the 100th episode coming up in March.
DEADLINE: We talked a little bit about the arrival of 9-1-1. What kind of push are you putting behind it? Also, if spinoff Lone Star becomes available, would you be interested?
ERWICH: 9-1-1 is the No.1 broadcast drama on television so to bring it to ABC and to be in business with Ryan is a huge opportunity for us. It’s a little bit of a homecoming because our studio [20th Television] produces the show. It’s going to be a huge launch for us, we want everybody to know the show’s coming to ABC. There’s an event-ized season opener that I think is going to be eye-opening for people and the event of it, it’s really special.
DEADLINE: Ryan Murphy has spoken about his desire to do a second 9-1-1 spinoff. Is this something that you would do or, as I mentioned, could Lone Star potentially join ABC?
ERWICH: We don’t have anything in the works at this time. But I’m always, always open to having those conversations with Ryan and [9-1-1 co-creator/EP] Tim [Minear]. Right now we’re focused on this season of 9-1-1.
DEADLINE: Ryan also has a legal drama series at Hulu starring Kim Kardashian. What is the status of it and will the making of that show be featured on Hulu’s The Kardashians for the ultimate synergy move?
ERWICH: First of all, to have the two titans of their respective genres, Ryan and Kim, working together is a dream come true for us. I’ve obviously heard the pitch for the series. I think it’s an amazing vehicle for Kim who did incredible work on American Horror Story. That was just the beginning of a very special relationship between Ryan and Kim. I don’t have additional news to share but it’s certainly an opportunity we are really looking forward to.
The reality show covers the goings-on in their lives, so there’s an opportunity to cover that. That’s something we’ll certainly take advantage of, I think the audience would want to see that.
DEADLINE: Going back to to ABC. There’s been talk recently whether the 10 o’clock hour continues to be viable for the broadcast networks. What is your take? Does ABC remain committed to that hour with original programming?
ERWICH: Yes, the 10 o’clock hour remains very important to us, it’s a very important part of our content strategy. We have been adjusting our strategy to reflect audience behavior, and viewers seem to be enjoying more join-in-progress, or drop-in entertainment and news shows during the 10 o’clock hour. That’s the hour that leads into our local news, which is an incredibly strong lineup, and we see a lot of pre-tune-in for that. We also have a lot of time-shifting at 10 PM. [Delayed viewing of previously aired programs.]
We’re having really good success with that strategy. Fridays at 10 o’clock we have 20/20 which has been a resounding No. 1 performer as a news program there. I think you’ll see more collaborations between ABC News and ABC Entertainment with things like What Would You Do? As we’ve seen, flow still matters, and unscripted shows into news/unscripted at 10 o’clock is probably better flow than unscripted into drama.
DEADLINE: You spoke in your opening remarks yesterday about how ABC shows perform on Hulu. Is this now factoring into your renewal decisions? Abbott is the first ABC series renewed for next season and, probably not coincidentally, it ranked as both ABC’s No. 1 current series on Hulu and the highest-rated comedy on the network last season.
ERWICH: Absolutely. We have a very holistic view of where people are watching these shows and when. We want to count every viewer because we know each viewer is watching shows differently. Quite a few people are still committed to watching the show live in its linear feed so they can participate in a real-time conversation and enjoy that communal nature of watching a television show.
There are people who might wait till a couple episodes are on demand on Hulu and they want to watch four or five in a row, and there’s people who catch up on the weekends. It’s up to us to capture all of that, and we have the advantage of having all of these platforms and be able to serve the customer best by having as much information as to how and when people are watching things. It’s a very unique proposition that only Disney has.
DEADLINE: In the fall, by necessity because of the strikes, ABC leaned into unscripted programming and scored a breakout hit with The Golden Bachelor. You are adding one new scripted series this season, 9-1-1, with one on deck so far for next season, High Potential. Are you changing the programming mix from a business perspective with more unscripted and news programming to balance out expensive scripted shows?
ERWICH: We have these incredible powerhouse categories or programming for ourselves. We have these long-running procedurals, we have this incredible lineup of family friendly comedy shows like Conners and Abbott, we have an amazing resource in ABC News and we probably have the three Tiffany unscripted franchises in Idol, Dancing and Bachelor. We draw upon each, depending on what our scheduling needs are and what point we are in the year. So it’s always a mix.
DEADLINE: Disney streaming underwent a major content removal last year. At Hulu, you have some big new shows coming up, like the Dan Fogelman and Ryan Murphy dramas, but also there have been some shocking cancellations like The Great. Is that paring down the slate or a changeover, with a big, signature show like Handmaid’s Tale also going away?
ERWICH: We’re always adjusting our programming slate and every show is at different point in its life and we make those individual decisions. We’re very committed to scripted programming on Hulu, and we have a really exciting slate coming up.
The Dan Fogelman show is something we’re really excited about. The Handmaid’s Tale is going to production this summer, premieres in 2025. In development we have The Testaments behind that, which is an extension of The Handmaid’s franchise so we have a very robust slate of scripted programming that we’re really excited about. Again, our strategy — and it’s one that works across the entire company — is a focus on quality versus quantity, not just in terms of how we produce the shows but also in bringing them to market.
DEADLINE: What about the decision to cancel The Great after three seasons?
ERWICH: It was an incredible show. We were honored to have it and it was recognized through both the critics and the audience. I think it was the perfect way to approach a Hulu show, which is if we’re going to do historical drama, it’s going to be through a very unique and modern tone, so it’s a show we’re really proud of. And people can still watch it on Hulu.
DEADLINE: Are there any plans for a movie or special to tell viewers who the father is on How I Met Your Father?
ERWICH: We don’t have any news to share about that right now.
DEADLINE: What about shows like Black Cake and Taste the Nation? Have you made renewal decisions?
ERWICH: Really proud about those shows. I don’t have any news to share right now.
DEADLINE: Anything you can say about the Dan Fogelman show whose premise is yet to be revealed?
ERWICH: We have James Marsden, Julianne Nicholson and Sarah Shahi who are joining Sterling on the series. I don’t want to spoil any details, but it’s a big event for television. I’m really looking forward to it.
DEADLINE: Onto the other Dan Fogelman show on Hulu, Only Murders In the Building. Because of its concept, there is probably a finite number of murders that can happen in that building. Have the creatives, Dan and co-creators Steve Martin and John Hoffman, shared how many seasons they think the show can go? Could Season 4 be the last one or maybe one more after that? Also, you mentioned on Saturday that you have read the first 4-5 scripts of Season 4. Can you talk more about your reaction?
ERWICH: Well, I’m very excited to see Steve, Martin and Selena take a little break from the apartment building and come to Los Angeles. So in the same way that John Hoffman used the canvas of Broadway to tell what I think was one of the most unique seasons you’ve ever seen, the same unique Only Murders take will be applied to Los Angeles, which I’m really excited about.
DEADLINE: What about Meryl Streep? Will we ever see her again on the show?
ERWICH: I don’t have anything to share but I thought she gave one of the best television performances of the year last year. I’ve listened to that song she has sung probably a dozen times. I can never get tired of it.
DEADLINE: You addressed Freeform on Saturday and spoke of the success of its Halloween and Christmas movie franchises. But in terms of scripted originals beyond the departing grown-ish and Good Trouble, do you have plans to pick up new pilots or series anytime soon? Under the current business model, is there any way to commission scripted shows, maybe jointly with Hulu in order to offset costs?
ERWICH: Everything at Freeform is done in conjunction with Hulu because the Freeform originals air on Hulu the next day. We’re very committed to that young female audience. We know that they like to watch a lot of the shows on Hulu. So we’ll service them in both places. We have a full slate for 24 and we have some shows we’re really excited about coming up.
Best of Deadline