ABC Unveils Ambitious Set of Inclusion Standards (Exclusive)

Simran Sethi - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Freeform/Craig Sjodin

ABC is putting in place a detailed new set of inclusion standards to ensure the network's programming and sets accurately reflects society.

Overseen by exec vp development and content strategy Simran Sethi, who has been working on the guidelines for the past year alongside ABC entertainment president Karey Burke, the standards aim to increase inclusion of underrepresented groups onscreen, in writing and directing jobs, and below the line.

Sources say Sethi sent an email Wednesday to pretty much anyone connected to ABC scripted programs, including showrunners (who are encouraged to share the mandates with writers), producers, casting directors and development executives as well as everyone at Disney Television Studios and third-party studios. THR has obtained Sethi's memo and the set of standards (read both below).

There are four different standards that will bolster representation on primetime programs (be it with actors, show or episodic premises), writers and crewmembers. The hope is two of the four standards will be met by May 2021, three of four by October 2021, and four of four by May 2022. ABC will provide resources and training — including a showrunner session — along the way for staff in a bid to help achieve the network's goals. ABC is also crafting tips for inclusive hiring and working with various unions on below-the-line goals.

"These new guidelines are intended to make our content and our sets as inclusive as possible, and will serve as a further catalyst for real and sustained change," said Sethi in the memo to staff. "We want to take this moment to evaluate systems and habits in an effort to remove barriers to access and opportunity. It’s important for us to look around the room, see who’s not there, and then take the steps to not only bring them in, but also set them up for success."

The ABC plan arrives two months after CBS, under new entertainment group CEO George Cheeks, committed to developing a greater number of scripts created or co-created by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) writers for the current 2020-21 development season. The network is also targeting all of its writers rooms to comprise 40 percent BIPOC for this coming season, with that figure growing to 50 percent for the 2022-23 season.

For her part, Sethi joined ABC in August 2019 in the newly created role as exec vp development and content strategy. With her hiring, Burke centralized all of the network's development teams under Sethi, who now oversees the heads of drama, comedy and longform. Sethi previously served as Burke's top lieutenant when both worked at Freeform under then-president Tom Ascheim. Burke was plucked from Disney's younger-skewing cable network to take over ABC, while Sethi left Freeform more than two years ago to build Netflix's originals in India. She left the streamer in May 2019.

Here's Sethi's email to staff, with a PDF of the network's guidelines below that:

Dear friends and colleagues,  

As many of you may already know, ABC Entertainment has established a new set of Inclusion Standards that we’re implementing across all of our primetime series to ensure multidimensional representation across the entire creative and production process.

These new guidelines are intended to make our content and our sets as inclusive as possible, and will serve as a further catalyst for real and sustained change.  We want to take this moment to evaluate systems and habits in an effort to remove barriers to access and opportunity. It’s important for us to look around the room, see who’s not there, and then take the steps to not only bring them in, but also set them up for success.

We are deeply committed to progress and are hopeful that these standards will help guide us to a place where our shows – behind the camera and in front – are reflective of the audience that we serve.  We look forward to collaborating with you all to reach that goal.

Your ABC executive is available to help you with any questions you may have.

Included in this email:

  1. One-page summary of ABC Entertainment’s Diversity & Inclusion Standards.  
  2. Database of Talent Resources from within Walt Disney Television and from around the Industry to help connect you to diverse and underrepresented talent and crew.
  3. List of Vendors owned by members of underrepresented groups.  

** These databases serve as resources rather than endorsements of any organization, company, or individual listed in the databases.  We encourage you to vet and research any potential hires.  ** These databases will be updated and revised as more resources are identified or become available; we encourage you to bookmark these pages and return to them often.

Here's ABC's inclusion standards: