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It’s a happy summer at Freeform.
The Disney-owned basic cable network has handed out a second-season renewal for its breakout hit Cruel Summer. The series has also now become the younger-skewing cabler’s most watched ever. An episode count and return time frame for season two have yet to be determined.
Picked up to series a year and a half ago under then-Freeform president Tom Ascheim, Cruel Summer is from Entertainment One and Jessica Biel’s Iron Ocean banner, with the company’s Michelle Purple exec producing alongside Biel, series creator Bert V. Royal and showrunner Tia Napolitano.
“Renewing Cruel Summer for a season two was an easy decision,” said new Freeform president Tara Duncan. “It’s the biggest series debut in Freeform’s history, and the audience response has been overwhelmingly positive. Jessica, Michelle, and Tia did a phenomenal job telling an addictive story that’s tapped into the cultural zeitgeist. I’m excited to see where they take the series next.”
Cruel Summer marks the first scripted series to debut under Duncan’s regime at Freeform. She replaced Ascheim last year. With 35 days of multiplatform viewing, Cruel Summer averages 6.8 million total viewers per day. It ranks as the No. 1 new cable drama of the year among women 18-34, with its most recent episode surging 31 percent above its April series debut. The series also has been a strong performer on Hulu, where all of Freeform’s originals are available to stream the day after linear debuts. The series was the most watched next-day season one title from a linear channel in its first seven weeks to date on the Disney-owned platform.
“Collaborating with Iron Ocean, our dedicated crew, charismatic cast, and our partners at Freeform and eOne has been the best first showrunning experience I could ask for. I am beyond grateful and excited by the amazing fan response to our show! Continuing to bottle Cruel Summer magic for a season two is an absolute dream come true,” Napolitano said.
Olivia Holt, Chiara Aurelia, Michael Landes, Froy Gutierrez, Harley Quinn Smith, Allius Barnes, Blake Lee and Brooklyn Sudano star in the series, which wraps its first season Tuesday at 10 p.m. on Freeform.
“We are so proud of this show and the incredible cast and crew who brought so much hard work and grit to every single scene. This wouldn’t have been possible without them and our mastermind showrunner, Tia Napolitano. To be picked up for a second season is a dream, and we have so many ideas for where we can take this next. We are excited to get to work with our brilliant team of creatives on this project in addition to our partners at Freeform and eOne. To the audiences who have been tuning into this show week in and week out, thank you!!! This is all for you!” Biel and Purple said in a joint statement.
Cruel Summer is part of a scripted slate at Freeform that also includes the upcoming Single Drunk Female, Grown-ish, Good Trouble, Everything’s Gonna Be Okay and Motherland: Fort Salem.
Below, Duncan talks with The Hollywood Reporter about what she’s learned from the breakout success of Cruel Summer.
What is it about Cruel Summer that you think helped it cut through?
This is a show that resonated with audiences because it’s a mystery that’s really grounded in what it means to be a young woman today, and it has a really sticky, central conceit of wish fulfillment. You see that with the “who do you believe between Jeanette and Kate and playing on that grass-is-always-greener and shifting points of view and how once you’re really grounded in another person’s shoes, the story tends to change. Audiences responded to those central themes.
What have you learned about the Freeform viewer from this series, and how has that informed your development pipeline going forward?
We knew, and this netted out to be true, that our audience will find us where ever our content lives. This found an audience on linear and on Hulu and digital channels. It really shows that this is a brand that transcends network and streaming.
Cruel Summer was picked up a year and a half ago. How does this reflect the type of programming you want at Freeform?
It’s really reflective of strategy I’ve doubled down on, it’s grounded in a very young adult point of view. It has a perspective of young people driving the narrative. It’s really pushing boundaries in terms of the format. The fact we’ve shown we can have a show told in dual points of view over three separate years is a really fresh take. Something we’re trying to do at Freeform is bring something unique and special to the medium. This is a story that resonates at the level of what’s affecting young people today, and it has bigger societal themes at play in the story. It shows that we can have a show that’s sticky and popular that also has a commentary on the world today.
Until Cruel Summer, Grown-ish had been considered the network’s brand-defining show. How much life is left in Grown-ish considering Black-ish will end next season on ABC?
The face of the network is definitely evolving, as I came in and said, “Our goal is to be focused and targeted on YA audiences and wanting to capture the spirit of Gen Z and millennials,” and Cruel Summer has done that. Grown-ish is still a show that speaks to our audiences and will continue. There are no decisions about a final season.
What about Good Trouble and Everything’s Gonna Be Okay? Will those be back?
We are currently in conversations with producers from both shows about the creative. As long as there is more story to tell, we’ll keep them going.
You greenlit Single Drunk Female, bringing Freeform’s current scripted roster to six shows. How much more will you invest in scripted given how much linear cable networks have pulled back from the genre amid the larger focus on streaming?
We have Single Drunk Female and we just shot the pilot for Everything’s Trash, which we’ll look at soon. We are still committed to authentic and buzzy scripted programming. If anything, we’re adding unscripted and animation to our slate next year. We’ve never been a volume shop. We’re focused on quality over quantity. But there’s no way getting out of scripted.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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