It’s easy to envision Robin Roberts sitting down for an in-depth interview with a hard-to-nab celebrity or landing a “get” with an inspirational newsmaker. How about Robin Roberts helping to solve a mystery ripped from the headlines?
Such a notion is a distinct possibility thanks to a new ABC News Studios production unit that Roberts will lead. The move is the latest by ABC News to increase the number of projects it creates not just for the Disney broadcast network, but for streaming outlets such as Hulu and Disney+
“The creation of this unit offers a unique opportunity to tell new and compelling stories in a wide range of formats, and we’ll also explore genres people might not expect from me,” Roberts tells Variety via e-mail.
ABC News has steadily ramped up its production efforts in recent months, launching ABC News Studios in a bid to increase work in new content areas, including documentaries and unscripted programming. Last year, ABC News and George Stephanopoulos tested “Power Trip,” a program that focused on young journalists tracking the 2022 midterm election, with the veteran anchor serving as a sort of eminence grise.
But other outlets are doing the same — and often empowering top talent to create a range of projects that don’t always have much to do with traditional TV. NBCUniversal struck a deal with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow that calls for podcasts and film projects, as well as a once-a-week program on the cable-news outlet (and other appearances as news warrants). Her colleague Chris Hayes is taking up similar duties, and ceding his Monday-night responsibilities on the network to a new program led by Jen Psaki.
“We are committed to developing projects across formats and genres,” says Jonathan Blakely, executive producer of Roberts’ new unit, in an interview. “It could include everything from pop culture to true crime, and some things that might surprise some people that will come from Robin.”
Blakely previously launched and executive produced “60 Minutes+” for CBS News and its predecessor show, a short-form version of the program for Quibi. In more than a decade at CBS News, Blakely worked at “60 Minutes,” “CBS This Morning,” “CBS Evening News” and CBS News’ streaming operations. He will report to Mike Kelley, the head of ABC News Studios. Katie Conway, a veteran producer at “Good Morning America,” will be senior producer for the unit, overseeing development and production from Los Angeles. Producer Danielle Genet and production coordinator Kayla Simmons will also join the Roberts’ new operation.
Roberts also leads Rock’n Robin Productions, a unit that launched in 2014.
“Robin Roberts’ career is a masterclass in powerful storytelling that, over the years, has left an indelible mark on ABC News and people around the world,” says Kim Godwin, president of ABC News, in a statement. “This dedicated ABC News Studios production unit will make it possible for Robin to seamlessly produce more premium, original content about extraordinary people and places like only Robin can.”
Roberts’ inaugural project under the new arrangement will air as a special edition of “20/20″ on Sunday, September 24 at 10 p.m. “Kerry Washington: Thicker Than Water – A Conversation with Robin Roberts” features Roberts in a one-on-one interview with actor, director and producer Kerry Washington in advance of “Thicker Than Water,” her coming memoir. “She’s famously tight-lipped about her personal life,” says Blakely, but opens up to Roberts about struggles she’s faced over the course of her life and career. He says Washington will unveil a family secret, but declined to offer more specifics.
More is on the way, Blakely says. “At the end of the day, a really compelling narrative story — I think that is what really resonates with people,” he adds. “That’s what we are going to be focused on.”
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