The major broadcast networks unveiled their coming schedules this week as part of the annual tradition known in the industry as upfront week. The moment marks an opportunity for TV execs to talk about the new and returning shows they’re excited about — in the hopes that advertisers will share their enthusiasm. But it’s also a time when network suits are confronted with questions about topics ranging from their decision to cancel beloved shows to how well the people appearing in network offerings reflect those watching them.
Let’s explore some of the biggest takeaways.
Disney basically owns everything.
The Walt Disney Company put on a whopper of a presentation introducing coming plans for its various properties, which have long included ABC, ABC News, Freeform and ESPN. Disney’s reach expanded even more this year in the wake of the company’s acquisition of Twentieth Century Fox, putting FX and National Geographic under Disney’s vast umbrella.
On Tuesday, a conference call with reporters started with news of yet another asset in Disney’s grasp: Hulu.
As The Washington Post’s Rachel Siegel reported, ownership of the streaming network was previously split between Disney, Fox and the Comcast-owned NBCUniversal. The new agreement gives Disney full operational control of Hulu (though Comcast will retain its 33 percent financial stake in the streaming company for the next five years).
The news, viewed by industry insiders as Disney’s attempt to compete with Netflix and its rapidly growing profile of original content, prompted questions both broad (what does it all mean?) and specific (which TV shows will land on Disney+, the company’s forthcoming streaming service?). There were also many jokes about everything (and everyone) being owned by the House of Mouse.
Yes, Constance Wu will still be on “Fresh Off the Boat."
Disney’s call with reporters took place less than a week after Wu’s Twitter outburst over the renewal of ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat.” Obviously, the actress’s controversial tweets (and subsequent statement) came up. Karey Burke, the head of ABC Entertainment, shut down any speculation Wu would leave the show.
“There’s been no thought to recasting Constance. We love what she does in the show, and we love the show,” Burke said, noting she had been aware of the other project Wu had hoped to pursue in the event the sitcom didn’t land a sixth season.
"But we never really considered not bringing back ‘Fresh Off the Boat.’ The show is just too strong for us, and we love it, " Burke said. “So, I’m going to choose to believe Constance’s most recent communication about the show — that she is happy to return.”
Fox faces questions about its commitment to diversity.
On Monday, Fox announced “Empire” will end after its coming sixth season. The network reiterated there are “no plans” for Jussie Smollett to return to the drama, but execs were mum on whether the actor’s ongoing legal troubles contributed to the decision to cancel the show.
The “Empire” news, coupled with the cancellation of a slew of shows prominently featuring black actors — including “Lethal Weapon,” “Rel,” “Star,” “Proven Innocent” and “The Cool Kids” — prompted some questions about diversity in Fox’s fall line-up. In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier said diversity was an “important” issue at the network.
“If you look across our slate in terms of scripted and unscripted and sports, we really are, I think, doing a good job, but the job never stops,” he said. “The effort continues.”
It probably did not help matters when former NFL star Terry Bradshaw made a racially insensitive joke about “The Masked Singer” judge Ken Jeong during Fox’s upfront presentation. Bradshaw, who appeared in the reality competition show’s first season, later issued a statement, apologizing to Jeong and “the Asian American community.”
Meantime, CBS’s fall slate is conspicuously more diverse than it has been in recent years. But the network’s upfront presence was largely overshadowed by recent scandals, which brings us to . . .
“Bull” is getting a fourth season despite sexual harassment claims against its lead star.
The future of CBS’s legal drama “Bull” looked bleak at the end of last year. In December, the New York Times reported the network paid a confidential $9.5 million settlement to Eliza Dushku after the actress alleged she had faced sexual harassment from Michael Weatherly, the lead star of the popular series.
In a subsequent essay for the Boston Globe, Dushku said she was fired from the show in retaliation for confronting her co-star about sexually charged comments he made on set. Her claims, and CBS’s reported attempts to keep them a secret, drew even more scrutiny to a network that had recently ousted its CEO, Les Moonves, and prominent news anchor Charlie Rose, amid allegations of decades-long misconduct.
Not surprisingly, CBS’s upfront presentation put the network’s turmoil into glaring focus. There was no Moonves, long the enthusiastic host of CBS’s annual event. CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl faced questions about the company’s decision to renew “Bull” — announced last week — following Dushku’s allegations.
“Michael made a mistake in his comments,” Kahl said, according to Variety. “He owned that mistake. He was apologetic at the time, and he was remorseful. He was willing to take any kind of coaching or training we deem necessary for him to create a positive environment on the set.”
Kahl also said CBS found no previous complaints about Weatherly throughout his long history with the network — the actor was on “NCIS” for 13 seasons. “When we looked at the totality of the situation, we felt comfortable bringing ‘Bull’ back on the air,” he said.
But “Bull” does not appear to be completely unscathed by the controversy. Following the renewal news last week, Deadline reported Steven Spielberg’s production company, Amblin Television — whose co-heads served as executive producers for the drama’s first three seasons — had ended its association with the show.
CW doubles down on what it does best.
CW gave its current lineup a vote of confidence, renewing 14 shows including, in a first for the network, its entire freshman slate. It also announced three new series that fit into the Comics-friendly network.
CW will expand its so-called Arrowverse with “Batwoman,” starring Ruby Rose (“Orange Is the New Black”). The series will lead into “Supergirl” on Sunday nights.
In another well-suited pairing, “Nancy Drew,” featuring newcomer Kennedy McMann in the title role, will follow “Riverdale” on Wednesdays.
“Riverdale” has spawned another series featuring an Archie Comics character: Katy Keene. Lucy Hale (“Pretty Little Liars”) will star as the fashion-forward Keene, who moves to New York City to (what else?) pursue her dreams. Josie (of Pussycats fame) will be her roommate, bringing “Riverdale’s” Ashleigh Murray over to the spinoff, which premieres at midseason.
Interracial couples/families take center stage in two new sitcoms.
ABC’s “Blackish” is moving to the 9:30 p.m. slot to make room for “Mixedish.” The previously announced spinoff explores the unconventional childhood of Johnson family matriarch, Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross, in her Golden Globe-winning role).
In the prequel, Rainbow struggles to navigate her adolescence as the biracial daughter of hippies (Tika Sumpter and Anders Holm), who trade their defunct commune for life in the suburbs. To top it all off, it is the ’80s.
Over at CBS, Chuck Lorre is introducing “Bob Hearts Abishola,” which stars Billy Gardell of “Mike and Molly” fame. Gardell plays a middle-aged businessman who falls for his cardiac nurse, a Nigerian woman, while recovering from a heart attack.
Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku) does not reciprocate Bob’s feelings — at least, not initially. (Man ends up with woman well out of his league is not exactly a new formula for CBS.) But the network says the sitcom will focus on more than Bob’s attempts to woo Abishola, calling the show a “comedy that examines immigrant life in America.”
Tiffany Haddish will host a reboot of “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”
The comedian is also an executive producer of the ABC show, a revamp of the series Bill Cosby hosted in the late ’90s. “I’m excited to hear what kids have to say these days because I can’t understand what they are saying on social media,” Haddish told Deadline. “They’re using too many abbreviations!”
In other hosting news . . .
- Melissa McCarthy is replacing Steve Harvey as the host of NBC’s kid-centric variety show, “Little Big Shots,” which will return after football season. The move followed the cancellation of Harvey’s syndicated daytime talk show, prompting the Hollywood Reporter to quip that SNL’s Kenan Thompson “is the only version of Steve Harvey you’ll be seeing on NBCU any time soon.”
- In case you missed it, YouTube star Lilly Singh (a.k.a. Superwoman) will take over as the host of NBC’s 1:35 a.m. time slot in September. Her show, “A Little Late With Lilly Singh,” will replace “Last Call With Carson Daly” as “The Voice” host ends his 17-year-run in late night.
- Jimmy Kimmel is setting his late-night show on the path to a milestone 20 seasons. The comedian recently signed a three-year contract extension, keeping him at ABC through the end of 2022.