Freeform Taps Tara Duncan as Its Next President

Tara Duncan- Publicity - H 2020
Rick Proctor

Following a ramped-up search, Freeform has found its next network chief.

Disney's younger-skewing cable network has tapped producer and former Netflix exec Tara Duncan to serve as its president. The Netflix and AMC alum will start her new post June 8 and replace Tom Ascheim at the top of the cabler. Ascheim, who announced in April that he was stepping down at Freeform for a role at WarnerMedia, will remain on board through the end of June to help with the transition. With Duncan — who is in her late 30s — Freeform has hired an exec that is closer to its target 18-34 demographic.

"Tara is an exceptionally skilled executive and a seasoned producer who is bringing a wealth of experience, across linear channels and streaming platforms, to her new role,” Disney TV Studios and ABC Entertainment chairman Dana Walden, to whom Duncan will report, said Thursday in a statement. "Her background, great taste and reputation make her the perfect choice to lead Freeform and its original programming that entertains viewers across its linear channel and distribution on Hulu. Tara and I met for the first time a little over a year ago, and I was truly taken with her vision and understanding of the creative process. Getting her inside of Walt Disney Television has been a priority and I am thrilled she will be leading the formidable Freeform team."

Duncan, a member of The Hollywood Reporter's 2014 Next Gen class, had an overall deal at Hulu and, for the streamer, was developing a take on Zakiya Dalila Harris' acclaimed novel The Other Black Girl, which she won following a bidding war. Before her deal at the now Disney-backed Hulu, Duncan spent years as a senior creative exec at Netflix, where she oversaw the hits Orange Is the New Black and Narcos and launched such efforts as Spike Lee's rebooted She's Gotta Have It series, Baz Luhrmann's The Get Down, the Wachowskis' Sens8 and Justin Simien's Dear White People. Before Netflix, Duncan produced the pilot for Bosch, which would go on to become Amazon's first-ever scripted drama series. She also was a creative exec at AMC, where she worked on dramas including The Killing.

"The programming on Freeform makes me think, laugh and feel good at a time when being optimistic matters most,” said Duncan. “It is incredibly exciting to join the Freeform team and continue forging a path for fun, daring storytelling. I am especially grateful for Dana Walden’s leadership and Craig Erwich’s guidance, as well as Bea Springborn and a host of mentors and friends who have nurtured me to this next chapter in my career."

Duncan was selected to lead Freeform following an extensive search that also featured names from outside the Disney family. For his part, Ascheim notably was passed over in late 2018 for the top job at Disney-owned broadcaster ABC, a post that went to his then-No. 2, head of originals Karey Burke. Together, Ascheim and Burke helped reinvent Freeform with such breakout series as The Bold Type and Black-ish spinoff Grown-ish and, more recently, critically praised rookies like Everything's Gonna Be Okay and the since-canceled Party of Five update.

Ascheim is best known for his focus on data and strategy and most recently tapped former Tornante TV and Comedy Central grad Lauren Corrao as his head of development, replacing Burke. Since taking over for Burke in April 2019, Corrao has been charged with accelerating and amplifying content at Freeform while overseeing scripted and unscripted development and current originals, as well as casting and talent development.

Under Corrao, Freeform recently announced renewals for Everything's Gonna Be Okay and Motherland: Fort Salem, with the coronavirus pandemic production shutdown delaying the returns of Grown-ish and Good Trouble and the new drama Cruel Summer to 2021.

Duncan, who grew up in Southern California's Inland Empire and graduated from Loyola Marymount University, is a founding member of the Time's Up-backed Who's in the Room, a mentorship program created to help diversify the executive and producer ranks in the industry. She started her career at George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh’s Section Eight when Amy Gravitt hired Duncan to replace her as Grant Heslov's assistant.