Upfront Week 2012: ABC’s Schedule and Analysis

This week is basically like Christmas for television nerds like myself. Frankly, it is better. Of course, I am talking about Upfronts, the time of the year where the networks bring new fall schedules (and sometimes winter/spring schedules that do not end up sticking) to advertisers. Thanks to the glorious nature of the internet and Twitter, we basically already know what has been picked up and what has been canceled. But discussing brand-new schedules is still damn fun. All this week, I will be providing some thoughts on each network’s pilot orders (though I obviously have not seen anything), schedules and more. 

Again, I am still running behind. I apologize. Right now though, it is time to talk about ABC.

Primary needs: ABC has had a really weird season. Modern Family continues to soar, Grey’s Anatomy had a solid season and the realty stalwarts (Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor) continue to do well. On top of that, Once Upon a Time became the season’s biggest new drama, Revenge grew into the buzziest and other new series like Suburgatory, Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 and Scandal did well enough to get second seasons.

And yet, ABC will likely finish the season behind NBC in the ratings (mostly because of the Super Bowl, but still). The odd thing about ABC is that few nights actually feel like they have holes. Mondays and Thursdays are rock-solid, Wednesdays are stellar and Sunday is somewhere in between. Tuesdays need work, but the Dancing results show at least helps in that regard.

Nevertheless, ABC has a few big needs going into next season. First of all, the net needs to make Revenge into a real hit instead of just a media darling. The ratings have been good, but not great. I still think ABC needs another sizeable drama hit as well, with Desperate Housewives going off the air and Grey’s getting long(er) in the tooth. Once Upon a Time has a hold on Sundays and Scandal could grow (but likely won’t since that post-Grey’s slot does not lead to much), but ABC lost out on a lot of big drama series in 2011-2012 (Pan Am, The River, GCB, Missing, etc.).

Finally, ABC needs to strengthen its already-great comedy output. The post-Modern Family slot has been a bit of a challenge, for some reason, and the network clearly wants Tuesdays to work as well, which could be a challenge now that FOX is going all in on comedies there as well. ABC has a lot of series people like, the network just needs to make sure more people like them.

Pilot orders: Nashville, The Last Resort, 666 Park Avenue, Mistresses, Red Widow, Zero Hour (Drama); How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life), The Family Tools, The Neighbors, Malibu County (Comedy)

Since the 2004-2005 season, ABC has struggled with identity issues. That season brought the Alphabet Network Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, two series very popular with women that helped shape the network’s soapy image. Yet, that season also gave ABC Lost, a series the network has tried to replicate ever since. Over the last few seasons, ABC moved away from big tentpole, “mythology”-based serialized content and more towards soapy programming. The problem is that the biggest hit the network could cultivate is Once, which is definitely more the latter type of series than the former.

This slate of new series suggests that ABC is trying to appeal to those viewers who might not have loved Desperate Housewives. I am not entirely sure who that new audience is, but I would at least suggest that ABC wants more men watching, hence The Last Resort and Zero Hour. The former series is written by Shawn Ryan and features a cool premise and great cast…but who watches it? That is a legitimate question. Zero Hour is being held for an undetermined time and looks like poor miniseries. 666 Park Avenue could be compelling and be a crossover hit – perhaps the broadcast American Horror Story? – but Rachel Taylor is not an appealing lead. Nashville is clearly ABC’s favorite project of the new season and should fit into the current brand landscape. Connie Britton looks great, which is important. Mistresses looks like a dozen other ABC series that have failed and Red Widow might as well already be canceled.

Comedy-wise, the lukewarm feelings continue. The Neighbors plays like a Disney Channel Original Movie. I am a big fan of both Sarah Chalke and Kyle Bornheimer and actually chuckled at both clips for How to Live with Your Parents and The Family Tools. I am just convinced neither series will last that long since both performers have had pretty poor luck, especially Bornheimer (RIP Perfect Couples). And, yeah, good for Reba.

Schedule:

Monday

Dancing with the Stars / The Bachelor

Castle

Tuesday

Dancing with the Stars Results Show / How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) and The Family Tools

Happy Endings

Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23

Private Practice

Wednesday

The Middle

Suburgatory

Modern Family

The Neighbors

Nashville

Thursday

The Last Resort

Grey’s Anatomy

Scandal

Friday

Last Man Standing

Malibu County

Shark Tank

20/20

Saturday

Football

Sunday

America’s Funniest Home Videos

Once Upon a Time

Revenge

666 Park Avenue

From a scheduling perspective, ABC’s choices make a great deal of sense. Moving Revenge to Sundays behind Once Upon a Time is a move to help the former become the hit it could maybe be and putting Happy Endings and Apartment 23 together on Tuesday shows a real dedication to making comedy fly there. Nevertheless, if you are like me and you do not find many of ABC’s new series to be that interesting, the schedule still looks boring and problematic.

ABC’s always had problems with using its established hits to build newer ones, mostly because it refuses to move certain programs out of those cushy timeslots. The network finally pulled the trigger and pushed Private Practice to Tuesdays this spring, where, shocker, it did just fine, and decided to keep it there next fall. And yet, here we are, coming up on five seasons of Castle and ABC keeps giving it that nice Monday at 10 p.m. timeslot. Based on what I know, I would bet that the Castle audience would follow the series elsewhere on the schedule, like say Thursdays at 8 p.m., where new series have gone to die for something like five years now. Instead, Castle stays put on Mondays and Ryan’s Last Resort gets to lead off a competitive night. Maybe ABC spends enough money to draw people to Last Resort – which has a somewhat complicated premise – but I am more inclined to believe that the series will fail pretty quickly, quality-aside.

Although I am happy to see Happy Endings and Apartment 23 both alive, freed from the great expectations of that post-Modern Family timeslot and together, I will be curious to see how those series match up against New Girl and The Mindy Project. I see the logic in pairing The Neighbors with Modern Family since both are “family-oriented.” But Neighbors looks miserable. ABC will be happy if Nashville’s ratings match what Revenge did this year and I guess people love country music so maybe that will pull in even more folks.

Honestly, pairing Tim Allen and Reba and their respective multi-camera sitcoms is probably my favorite thing about this schedule. I will not watch much of either program, but they could do some damage with slightly older viewers in that fairly weak 8 p.m. timeslot come November. It also would not shock me to see ABC swap those two comedies with any struggling combo from Tuesday if things get too rough ratings-wise.

Sundays suddenly become ABC’s big night on the drama front, a move that I like but do not love. Once Upon a Time held up well against football and Revenge’s female audience should too, but I am not sure about the real compatibility of those two will-be-sophomore series, nor am I sure that the network can get anything to work at 10 p.m. At least 666 Park Avenue’s pilot did not cost $10 million dollars.

Initial analysis: ABC has a lot of programs on its schedule that I really love and a few more that I like quite a bit. Unfortunately, only one of these prospects is that appealing to me (The Last Resort) and I am mostly resigned to its cancellation already because of it probably will not fit with the network brand. As I said a few times, I do like what ABC is trying to do. I am just unsure if these new series are going to stay afloat long enough for the various veterans to stabilize certain timeslots like the second hour on Tuesdays or the third on Sunday. ABC needs one of these dramas to hit or for Scandal to grow in year two and the Tuesday comedies have to perform. Uncertainty abounds.

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