‘American Crime’ (Credit: ABC/Ryan Green)

TCA: ‘Crime’ Pays in a Unique Way at ABC

Network gets prestige from John Ridley show, while exec producer gets to tell important stories

Complete Coverage: 2017 TCA Winter Press Tour

Sometimes it’s not about the almighty Nielsens.

Mark Pedowitz, president of The CW, mentioned this while discussing Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Jan. 8. CW brass adores this show, and the critics do as well. It’s never popped in the ratings, or even done a middling number. But Pedowitz says Crazy Ex is key to the network’s branding. “Great critical work, a critically acclaimed, nominated show like Crazy—it deserves to be picked up,” he said.

Same goes for American Crime at ABC. It’s a prestige play, a chance to get John Ridley on the network’s air, and a shot at awards (American Crime was up for a Golden Globe for best limited series earlier this week, which FX’s American Crime Story—no relation—won).

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Season three of American Crime starts March 12. Speaking with B&C, Channing Dungey, ABC entertainment president, called the new season “incredible.” “I think it’s John’s best work yet,” she said.

Asked to boil down the series’ takeaway, Ridley said that it’s about all Americans, rich or poor, black or white, being connected. “There is a connectivity and there is a cascade effect,” he said. “We have to stop thinking of ourselves as isolated individuals.”

American Crime is unique in that it’s got essentially a repertory of actors who take on entirely new roles each season. That includes Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, Regina King and Lili Taylor. The performers say they get to play characters with an uncommon level of complexity. “These are characters you don’t see on television,” said cast member Benito Martinez. “They go to depths you don’t expect.”

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The new season focuses on immigrant laborers. Ridley says the story was hashed out well before the election tossed the nation a big curveball. “The issues out there have always been out there,” he said. “There’s an infrastructure in place that allows these things to continue.”

Ridley gave ABC a big plug for sticking with a program that, despite stellar auspices and a pay cable feel, doesn’t get much of an audience. It means a lot, he said, “for a company this large to carve out a space, to say this show matters, and as long as they can, they’ll put it in front of [viewers].”

Ridley wrote the script for 12 Years a Slave. He also has a project at Showtime called Guerrilla, about racial struggles in ‘70s London.

He said of American Crime, “The first time we did this show, it was an experiment. Now it’s an imperative.”