20/20 senior executive producer David Sloan is in the midst of his 20th year producing ABC’s iconic prime time newsmagazine, and he’s still looking at fresh ways of storytelling, and keeping viewers on their toes.
“We have determined, demonstrated, really, that there is this true crime viewer on Friday night that has a real sweet tooth for it,” Sloan told TVNewser on Thursday. “We’ve evolved the show into more documentary storytelling. It is less presented, less anchor or correspondent-driven. Not to say we don’t have our anchors or correspondents, sometimes they do a key or central interview in the program. But rather than tracker narrations, they’re almost interviewees, where, they talk about the story.”
In 2019, 20/20 has been taking the viewer back to some the most significant newsmaker stories in recent years, examining them through a modern lens, challenging how we originally felt about the story and then sheding a new light on each one by interviewing key figure (or figures) involved.
“When I took the show over, it was more of a traditional newsmagazine; multi-topic,” said Sloan. “We started growing narratives; we switched to high-concept, single-subject, which were not necessarily narrative. Then, we evolved into narrative storytelling. I think this is the next quantum leap.”
This current documentary-style iteration of 20/20 that Sloan speaks of airs in a two-hour time slot. The program has been airing Fridays from 9-11 p.m. since Jan. 4, similar to its main competitor Dateline NBC.
20/20 has lagged behind the aforementioned Dateline in the Friday night ratings race these past few seasons. To be frank, the margin hasn’t been particularly close. But 20/20 is making a solid comeback in 2019. In fact, since expanding from one hour to two at the start of 2019, 20/20 is beating Dateline head-to-head, just delivered its most-watched episode in more than two years, and is up this broadcast season to-date in all relevant measurements.
Why the growth?
“I think two-hour length is a very successful format. Bar none,” said Sloan. “Now that we’re able to track the viewer at 9 p.m. in a single experience, we keep them at 10 p.m. because the show is built to reach crescendo.”
Sloan added: “I think the people on Friday night –or really any night for that matter–are looking for something bigger. They’re looking to be put into a really, really enjoyable and suspenseful experience to settle in for two hours. I think two hours wins, and I’m just really pleased right now about these last few weeks.”
The addition of Amy Robach has been significant as well.
Robach, previously GMA’s news anchor, was named 20/20 co-anchor in April 2018, after Elizabeth Vargas left 20/20 and ABC News for A&E. Robach officially joined Sloan, co-anchor David Muir and the rest of the 20/20 team after the previous broadcast season ended in May 2018.
“What Amy brings a real curiosity and zest to the stories that is palpable when you see her talking about a subject, or doing a narration or an interview,” said Sloan.
He also brought up Robach’s recent interview with John Wayne Bobbitt, calling it “pitch perfect,” before adding, “Go back to the year before – you saw her do the Tonya Harding interview, which was very, very pointed and incisive. She brings a boatload of great storytelling skills, she’s extremely hardworking. She’s really adding a lot and is a great compliment to David [Muir].”
While Robach may be the new kid on the block, Sloan is the vet.
How much longer does he plan on producing the program?
“As long as it’s still fun, and as long as they still regard me as good for the show,” Sloan said, before adding that he hadn’t really thought about it too much.
“One of the nice things we’re able to do is a combination of some iconic, vintage crime that is either still in the zeitgeist or has anniversaries as a peg,” said Sloan. “But we’re also going to be doing some breaking news, some cases that are in the courts now in the next few weeks. It’s going to be a really nice mix.”
The two-hour broadcasts were originally slated to run for 8 weeks, and then return to the traditional one-hour at 10 p.m. However, as soon as the network started seeing success, the two-hour version was extended through March, and now ABC wants to stick with two hours of 20/20 through the first 3 Fridays in April. In essence, this gives 20/20 a shot at de-throning Dateline for the ratings crown.
“We have indications that the network is looking to us to improve ABC fortunes on Friday nights,” said Sloan. “I can tell you that we are able, willing and ready to help the network in any way we can.”