ABC Boss on Constance Wu's Tweets, 'American Idol' Judges and Another Host-Less Oscars

Entertainment chief Karey Burke also discussed her strategy to pick up considerably fewer pilots and stabilize the schedule.
Craig Sjodin/ABC
Karey Burke

Hours before ABC’s newly installed entertainment president Karey Burke was trotted out before the advertising community, she stood face to face with the critics.

Her message Tuesday morning: she’s committed to stabilizing ABC’s schedule, and has big plans to do so.

Before opening herself up to questions, Burke — appointed only months earlier, replacing Channing Dungey in the top programming role — spoke confidently about her move to keep new pickups to a minimum. As she sees it, her predecessor had jammed far too many new offerings on the schedule — seven last fall; four midseason — leaving several of them to get lost. Broadcast networks simply don’t have the marketing bandwidth to support that kind of volume, she told a roomful of media, which explains her decision to add only six new series for the 2019-20 season.

Of similar importance to Burke is much-discussed commitment to reclaiming ABC’s title as the preferred home to female viewers, a strategy that she believes will help ABC climb up the ratings. And, as she acknowledged, her new network could use the boost. ABC is currently averaging a 1.3 rating among the all-important 18-49 demographic, putting it firmly in fourth place, though recent events like the Oscars and the NFL draft proved big wins.

After running through her newly revealed schedule, which will get more airtime from the Lincoln Center stage later in the day, Burke opened herself up to questions.

The Wu of It All

Burke applauded the room for its "restraint," teasing that she wrongly assumed a question about Constance Wu’s “fucking hell” tweet heard round the industry would be her first (rather than her second). With a hearty laugh, she acknowledged that she was aware of the film project that Wu had lined up (had Fresh Off The Boat not continued) and referenced in her renewal comments but that ABC "never really considered not bringing back” the comedy. To that end, Burke added that there are no plans to recast the Crazy Rich Asians star, noting that she is choosing to believe Wu’s second statement, an apology of sorts that served to explain her initial tweet, and that the cast and crew is happy to have her back.

So, What Will It Look Like Next Year

ABC’s new chief had little to offer when it came to American Idol’s future, acknowledging that they are in conversations with the current panel of judges but currently are more focused on Sunday’s finale. When asked if she was confident that she’s getting the group back, she responded: “I’m hopeful to be able to get them back.” As for the Oscars, she declined to say whether the 2020 ceremony would feature a host; instead, she praised the execution of the 2019 show, which famously went without one, and noted that she believes they "won't mess with that format to the best of our ability." As for any specifics, she said the Academy would begin such planning conversations later in the year.

A Series of "Tough" Decisions

Burke, too, is disappointed that Speechless won't live to see another season. She not only has warm feelings for the ABC comedy, but also a long history with its producer, Scott Silveri. Unfortunately, the decision ultimately came down to numbers, and the Minnie Driver half-hour simply wasn't delivering big enough ones. Burke noted that she was similarly bummed about the last-minute decision to cancel Scott Foley starrer Whiskey Cavalier, a decision she called a particularly "tough" one. "We thought we gave it a very strong launch [out of the Oscars] this spring, but we lost audience," she said, adding: "We looked for other time slots but did not see a real opportunity to grow."

Don't Forget About Her Bosses

Burke managed to earn brownie points with her new bosses during her first upfront press conference. With Peter Rice standing within earshot, she lavished him and Dana Walden with praise, focusing specifically on their dedication to such things as talent management and winning. She also identified a shared “scrappy underdog” philosophy that has driven her overlords, formerly of Fox, and herself.

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