After the strong success of "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," ABC Family was in a position to build on the audience for that series and found it this past summer with the new drama "Make It or Break It." While "Secret Life" focuses on the trials and tribulations of a teenage girl juggling adolescence with motherhood, "Make It or Break It" follows a group of teenage girls with personal conflicts alongside the ambitious world of gymnastics training in hopes of being a part of the Olympic games. When "Make It" premiered after "Secret Life" in June, it quickly took the spot of second best-ever series ratings for the network. To talk more about the show's success and why audiences responded favorably from the start, Jim Halterman talked with "Make It or Break It" series creator Holly Sorensen.
Jim Halterman: "Make It or Break It" returned with new episodes [this month] and some really strong ratings. Congratulations.
Holly Sorensen: It's really exciting. It's just really exciting. Everyone who works on the show loves it so much and that's not always an indicator of if you get to keep doing it or not so it's just a nice little sigh of relief. We're not numbers-obsessers over here but there's a big bounce in everyone's step today, that's for sure.
JH: The numbers are really strong with females but are there men in the audience, as well?
HS: The demographic reach of ABC Family is pretty darn clear. My hunch is that they're growing the female audience in age range both younger and older with women in their 30s and 40s who watch the show, which is great, and we do get a chunk of men who watch it, too. We grew in the numbers last Monday [and] we grew in every demo. More boys, more older, more younger, more men.
JH: And it doesn't hurt that you have a pretty good lead-in, right?
HS: The 'Secret Life' lead-in is something that we're tremendously thankful for and, also, this network does really good promos and they're really good about getting the word out so we're thankful for that, too.
JH: For being a family channel, there is a lot of adult material in these shows. Is that something you make sure to put in [the show] to keep the adults tuned in alongside the younger set?
HS: Our show happens to be interested in families. That's one of the questions about the show is what happens to the family when someone with an exceptional abilities is in it? What happens to the marriage? It raises an interesting family question so that's a question that we're interested in. The network, you know they're legally obligated to have 'family' in their title. I think it was a religious network that was purchased by Fox and then by Disney and part of the agreement for owning this network was that you had to have the word 'family' in the title and you have to show 'The 700 Club.' The network has that for a branding point of view and standpoint and I think that would kill a lot of networks to have that be a part of the name but Paul [Lee, President] and Kate [Juergens, Executive VP of Programming] just embraced it and made it work for them in a way that's amazing. I think the story of ABC Family is an incredibly interesting story. I used to be an entertainment reporter so I find what they are doing to be very interesting.
JH: When you set out to create the series, what was it about the gymnastics world that appealed to you?
HS: It's superhuman and it's just amazing what these young girls can do with their bodies. Part of the fun of making the show is we have that caliber of athlete on the set actually doing the tricks and it never gets old. Physically, just to watch it, I think it's a beautiful and amazing sport and it's an interesting sport to me because it requires such amazing power and strength by these young women. Also, the pressure... your career lasts from maybe 14-21 so to put all that pressure on such a young person is interesting and then the whole Olympic dream and ideal and sacrificing so much for one event.
JH: When you cast the series, did the actors at least have to have some kind of athletic ability to fit the mold?
HS: The casting process was really exceptionally difficult. We knew our girls would have their hair back and wear leotards everyday so the girls had to be very distinctive looking. We had to have four girls who didn't look like each other and then had to have different body types and then we needed girls who could act. I wanted girls who hadn't been exposed a lot before and obviously they had to excel at gymnastics so it was tough. There are varying degrees of athletic abilities and background but they train very hard for the show and they train gymnastically. I see a tremendous amount of improvement from all the girls since the pilot. We cast some of the girls just days before we started shooting the pilot and they obviously had never been on something like a balance beam, which is really scary to be up there in a leotard in front of a hundred of your closest friends... these girls are so brave and so tough and they've gotten so good at selling gymnastics so that's been fun to watch. I love the cast of the show, both the parents and the kids.
JH: Speaking of that, bringing in actors like Peri Gilpin and Candace Cameron Bure must help bring in the adult audience. Was that the thought behind casting them?
HS: I had met Peri previously and when I was an entertainment journalist I actually did a piece on her for InStyle and I was just so impressed by the combination of her earthiness, her humor and she just has this real warm quality and I knew that the Keeler family was going to be the moral center of the show. I kept saying that we need someone like Peri Gilpin and then we ended up getting Peri Gilpin. We were really lucky. She hadn't done a series [since 'Frasier'] and we didn't even know if she was interested in doing series television again so we were thrilled when she said yes.
JH: How did being an entertainment journalist inform what you're doing now as a television series showrunner?
HS: I started at the late, great Premiere magazine and my time there was by far the best preparation for working in Hollywood. I'm so grateful that I had that time. I was completely interested in the creative side and the business side so just having a broad piece of knowledge was really helpful. As a showrunner, like a magazine editor, so many of the same skills apply. When I was a magazine editor, I had to find writers, come up with ideas for the stories, talk the writers through the story and you have 12 issues of the magazine and you look at what you just did, let's do more of that... it's not dissimilar from creating an episodic television show.
JH: Do you think it would make a big difference for the show if 'Make It or Break It' were on one of the broadcast networks instead of cable?
HS: I don't think it would be a big difference. One of the things I think would be different is that one of the rare things about working with ABC Family is that there's not a studio and then the network. It's the network executives and that's it. You don't have all these layers of creative ideas and judgments and all the layer of stuff to get through. It's the decision makers and you and that's it and that makes your life so much easier. I have friends who have shows on networks and there's just a lot more people who are involved in the process. ABC Family also really cares about creators. They don't have a lot of money. You're not hugely compensated like you are on the networks but in return they give you a ton of freedom and a ton of support, which is great. I don't think I'd have as great of a working life as I do now if I was on the networks. Obviously, you'd have more eyeballs but content-wise it's about the same. Our network loves the audience and respects its audience so we love and respect it, too.
"Make It or Break It" airs every Monday night on ABC Family at 9:00/8:00c.