In her first year as ABC Entertainment president, Karey Burke has been working to “bring some much-deserved swagger back to broadcast television,” she said today at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif.
Burke has helped to do that with big events like Live in Front of a Studio Audience and Tuesday night’s Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time tournament, which drew 14.4 million viewers and a 2.4 rating in the 18-49 demo, more than double the rating of any other broadcast series. (However, ABC can’t tout those numbers yet, after announcing in November it would no longer report live-plus-same-day ratings.)
Now, the network has made that part of its official strategy, Burke told reporters, airing at least one live or tent-pole event every month to leverage the power of broadcast television over its streaming rivals. As part of that strategy, the network will be “eventizing” current programs as well as finding new specials.
Separately, the network plans to revive Thirtysomething, ordering a pilot of the ’80s drama that Burke expects to air this fall, and has picked up a new Bachelor spinoff.
In February, ABC will air the Oscars—which will once again be without a host, Burke confirmed—as well as a live episode of The Conners to be broadcast on Feb. 11, the night of the New Hampshire primary, and incorporate breaking election news into the episode.
A month later, the network will air Highwire Live!, featuring daredevil Nik Wallenda. April will bring the NFL draft, as well as a limited run celebrity edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, hosted and executive produced by Jimmy Kimmel, to celebrate that show’s 20th anniversary.
May will bring another edition to Live in Front of a Studio Audience, also hosted and produced by Kimmel.
ABC will air the Emmys on Sept. 20—no host has been announced yet—with another live musical, Young Frankenstein Live!, also planned for the fall. Burke said Young Frankenstein will take elements from the Broadway musical (based on the classic Mel Brooks comedy) and “broaden them out for television.”
While the linear platform continues to be powerful, audiences are increasingly watching ABC’s shows on digital. The ratings for 10 ABC series increase more than 200% when multiplatform viewing is factored in, and half of those shows grow more than 300%.
And, those viewers are considerably younger, Burke said. The median age of viewers who stream ABC shows on Hulu is 23 years younger than its linear audience.
Beyond its event programming, ABC also hopes to make a splash this fall, when it expects to air a revival of Thirtysomething—the drama about baby boomers that aired from 1987-1991—with Thirtysomething(else), which will feature both the original cast and their children, who are now 30-something adults themselves.
The revival, from Thirtysomething creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, will include new actors playing the now-adult kids, as well as original cast members Ken Olin (Michael Steadman), Mel Harris (Hope Murdoch), Timothy Busfield (Elliot Weston) and Patty Wettig (Nancy Weston).
“Bringing the show back has been a big priority for us,” Burke said, adding, “We’re gearing up for series but we’re going to start with a pilot.” Even though she didn’t pick the revival up straight to series, she said she expects the show to make it on the air this fall.
ABC has ordered another Bachelor series, The Bachelor: Listen to Your Heart. Debuting April 13, “the format is an evolution of the Bachelor franchise,” said Burke, who described it as “The Bachelor meets A Star Is Born.”
The music-centric series will feature 20 contestants, “whose lives and work revolve around music,” Burke said.
Last year, the decision to not have a host for the Academy Awards paid off for ABC, as Oscar ratings rose year over year for the first time since 2014. Much like last year, “we expect we’re going to have another commercial set of nominations,” Burke said. “The producers have already put together a plan for a really entertaining telecast.”
ABC is also adding to its stable of game show revivals with Supermarket Sweep, which will be hosted by Saturday Night Live alum Leslie Jones.