Take Me To The Upfronts: ABC

In All, Television by David

The television landscape is always evolving, but one thing will always be true–you got to show off what you got. That is why television upfronts continue to endure. Upfronts allow networks to show advertisers the programming they plan to offer over the next television season, but they also give a chance for networks to present their overall vision. These always serve as a marker for where television as a whole is going. So because of this, I am going to highlight what each major (or in the case if  The CW major-ish) network brought to their upfronts scheduling-wise for the next television season in a five-part series called Take Me To The Upfronts.(You can also find my thoughts on the pilots that vied for spots this season here and here.)

First up, ABC. Let’s take a look at their upcoming fall schedule.

Just keep doing what you’re doing, ABC.

ABC’s Complete 2016-17 Fall Schedule

Monday
8 p.m. — Dancing With the Stars
10 p.m.  — Conviction (New)

Tuesday
8 p.m. — The Middle
8:30 p.m. — American Housewife (New)
9 p.m. — Fresh Off the Boat
9:30 p.m. — The Real O’Neals
10 p.m. — Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD

Wednesday
8 p.m. — The Goldbergs
8:30 p.m. — Speechless (New)
9 p.m. — Modern Family
9:30 p.m. — Black-ish
10 p.m. — Designated Survivor (New)

Thursday
8 p.m. — Grey’s Anatomy
9 p.m. — Notorious (New)
10 p.m. — How to Get Away With Murder

Friday
8 p.m. — Last Man Standing
8:30 p.m. — Dr. Ken
9 p.m. — Shark Tank
10 p.m. — 20/20

Saturday
7:30 p.m. — Saturday Night Football

Sunday
7 p.m.  — America’s Funniest Home Videos
8 p.m. — Once Upon a Time
9 p.m. — Secrets and Lies
10 p.m. — Quantico

Not Scheduled: ScandalThe CatchAmerican Crime, When We Rise (event series), Dirty Dancing (made for TV movie), and several new series: Downward Dog, Imaginary Mary, Still Star-Crossed and Time After Time.

Initial Analysis:

  • ABC has created quite the brand out of a commitment to diverse programming in both comedy and drama–well, that and Dancing With The Stars continually being a ratings draw (maybe not what it used to be, but still quite good numbers). The dramas have built up tremendous buzz, especially with Shondaland being such a prominent part of the network’s DNA, and ABC’s focus on family comedies over more diverse subjects have proven that comedy blocks can still have ratings clout as long as they have a specific hook to them (take notes, NBC). This upcoming season looks to really push this latter idea, as both Tuesday and Wednesday are more or less comedy nights except for the 10 PM slots (this almost happened last year as well, to be fair, so the network has been trending this way for quite a while). ABC smartly added a lot of new blood into the mix this year to go along with its already successful shows. Conviction takes over Castle’s long held post-Dancing With the Stars Spot, while TGIT gets a non-Shonda show. Not all is perfect; Sunday is a bit of a weird night and the network’s simply stopped trying on Friday, which sucks, but ABC continues to have a firm grasp on what it is good at, and is making decisions that further strengthen those strengths while also injecting some new shows into the mix.

Decisions that made me happy and/or excited:

Canceling Castle

It was time to go.

  • Unlike another network who shall be talked about later, ABC made the decision to not bring back a show back for another season after it jettisoned its female lead by cancelling Castle. Castle was a fun show that finally gave Nathen Fillion a primetime role that lasted more than a season or two, and ratings-wise it proved to be an effective pairing with Dancing With The Stars, but it has been running on fumes for years now (both creatively and in audience share), and really needed to be allowed to end. Then it was announced that the show planned to boot leading lady Stana Katic in hopes of getting a ninth season, which was, well, ridiculous, because while Fillion might have been the initial draw, Katic had long proven to be just as much of an asset on the show. So it was a sad state of affairs once again proving that studios value their male leads over female ones (especially in this case, as rumors of off-screen tensions between Katic and Fillion had been around for years). Plus, it felt like a giant fuck you to fans, as there was basically no way Katic could leave the show without it undoing the entire love story the show had built up over the eight previous seasons. Luckily, ABC realized Castle needed to end, and didn’t allow a Katic-less ninth season to happen. Sure, this had more to do with the show’s lagging ratings than with the troubling casting decision, but sometimes you take what you can get.

Notorious on TGIT

  • Okay, this probably only happened because Scandal is being delayed due to Kerry Washington’s pregnancy, plus the fact that shows like The Catch (which got quite the surprising renewal) and honestly Still Star-Crossed are better off having shorter episode orders, but having TGIT invaded by a non-Shondaland show is probably a good idea. This is not a shot at the Shondaland shows, but more of an acknowledgement that she can’t literally make everything on ABC. The network has to be looking for other voices to help keep TGIT as buzzy as it was last season. Plus, really focusing all the Shondaland shows only on Thursday probably isn’t the best idea long term, and if the network can find other buzzy shows to put on Thursday, it might be able to shift a Shondaland show to a night that is struggling. ABC at times can be too conservative with its scheduling, the network is smart to see if Notorious will work on Thursdays. If it can keep up with the Shondaland vibe, that’s really the best night for the show to be on.

Picking Up Time After Time and Still Star-Crossed

  • These two shows feel different from the rest of the shows ABC picked up. Both are a bit riskier, projects that could work really well or fail miserably. All networks should be willing to take chances on shows like this for a variety of reasons, but in ABC’s case, with such a strong stable of shows, the network can afford to take on a little risk. CBS has never really been willing to do that, so it is nice to see that ABC is not following suit after the network has found some amount of the rival network’s sustained success. This is especially true considering ABC canceled a lot of its conceptually riskier ideas from past seasons, so it is nice to see the network isn’t getting skittish about these new shows quite yet.

Decisions that made me sad and/or confused:

The Handling of Marvel’s Most Wanted

  • Look, the fact that this show wasn’t picked up isn’t necessarily a big deal. Maybe it wasn’t that good, who knows, but this is the second year in a row this has happened with this show. The first time things were halted before it forced Adrienne Palicki and Nick Blood to have to leave Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but this time no such luck, and now the two actors have been pretty definitively written out of the show. ABC hasn’t really been able to handle its Marvel shows all that well in general, so none of this should really be a surprise, but it’s just disappointing that the network would mess with a dynamic that was clearly working for a project that never really seemed to have the strong footing it needed. It’s possible that ABC finally realized that its heart isn’t into doing Marvel shows, so it is just going to keep one around (in this case Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) so that Disney can remind people week-to-week about the existence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it at least means the network can devote its full attention to making Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as good as possible, but man, for the show to two lose two valuable cast members over a doomed pilot that never should have happened just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. (The only sliver of hope is that, given how Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. potentially shook things up in the season three finale, there might be a way to bring Palicki and Blood back, if they are willing).

The Designated Survivors Time Slot

Just put Keifer Sutherland in a Cornell hoody and glasses, that will totally make people think he isn’t Jack mother fucking Bauer….

  • Umm, so Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. getting a comedy block lead in makes sense, as the show has fantastical and comedy elements that can work with comedies, but Designated Survivor getting the 10 PM Wednesday slot makes a lot less sense. It is taking the place of Nashville, which was also always a weird fit on Wednesday, but at least if you squinted its soapiness sort of fit. That doesn’t appear to be the case with Designated Survivor, which looks to be a rather straightforward political drama, and seems like a poor fit for the night. It would make much more sense on Sunday, where it could be portrayed as a prestige show and pair well with Quantico and Secrets and Lies. Meanwhile, Once Upon a Time would make more sense on Wednesday, because it doesn’t have the same gravitas as the other shows on Sunday. ABC, however, has always been reticent to change a show’s slot once it has been successful there, which is silly because people aren’t simply going to stop watching a show because it moves (well, unless the move is to Friday) as long as the network properly informs people of this change. Once Upon a Time hasn’t really made sense on Sunday for a long time, but there hasn’t been a great reason to move it. This would have been the perfect time to do so. Instead, Designated Survivor is stuck on a weird night. Admittedly, this matters a lot less nowadays than it used to, considering most people aren’t watching television when it actually airs, but it is still a confounding decision.

Canceling of Galavant and Marvel’s Agent Carter

  • I can’t really criticize these decisions, because the ratings for both were so terrible, but I am sad about the cancelations. Agent Carter had an up-and-down second season, but it was still a lot of fun, and I am sad to see Hayley Atwell going from playing Peggy Carter to the generic looking role in Conviction (prove me wrong, show). Galavant, meanwhile, never should have gotten a second season, if we are being honest, so a third was really pushing it. But man, the show really had a niche as a fill-in for five weeks while other shows were on break, and it felt like ABC could have let it keep going if it really wanted to. Still, what was more concerning about these cancelations is that both of these shows were examples of ABC really going for it, and it is sad to see ABC giving up on those ideas.

Failed Pilots:

Comedy

Drama

Pilots I Wished Would Have Been Picked Up: Spark (it probably would have been a disaster, but if it had been good, it would have been something really different on primetime television, or at least a highly entertaining disaster).

Overall Thoughts:

  • ABC knows what is working, and didn’t look to shake things up too much. Of course, it helps that what ABC is doing is continuing to make diverse shows that aren’t just about white men doing things (give or take a Keifer Sutherland). Unlike last year, though, where ABC stood pat in a lot of ways, this year ABC is attempting to inject even more new blood into the mix, and just made sure the new blood actually fit with what was already on the air. This should help keep the network fresh, and allow it to continue its hot streak (as long as we forget The Muppets ever happened). It remains to be seen how good any of these new shows will end up being, but ABC looks to have a strong season ahead.

That’s it for ABC. Next up is CBS. Did the network surprise anyone? The answer is no, but I’ll cover it anyway.