Tuesday, May 13, 2014

ABC 2014-15 Schedule Preview - Taking Chances

ABC believes "Scandal" can take on the NFL and "The Blacklist"

Earlier this week, NBC and FOX both debuted relatively stable schedules that were designed to build on current success.  But NBC has the luxury of both strength and depth, meaning that it can leave the bulk of its schedule alone and just slot in new programs where the previous ones had failed.  And Fox only has to program two hours a night, so they have the easy task of pairing new shows with returning shows.  ABC, unfortunately, has to program three hours each night and they don’t have the stable of average shows that they can leave alone while they try to fill the problem spots.  So ABC’s schedule for the fall makes a couple of big moves, including shuffling SHIELD back an hour and making an aggressive counter-programming play on Thursday nights that could pay huge dividends in the fall but which will pit broadcast television’s two highest-rated dramas against each other in the spring.  Let’s look at the day-by-day.

ABC’s 2014-15 Schedule (New shows in BOLD)
Monday –
7:00pm – Dancing with the Stars
9:00pm – Castle

There was some speculation that ABC would finally use Dancing with the Stars to launch a new drama, but Castle remains for its seventh season.  There are two possibilities here.  Either ABC doesn’t believe Dancing can launch a new series or they got spooked by NBC keeping The Blacklist at 9:00pm in the fall.  Given CBS’s struggles in the timeslot, had NBC decided to launch a new series of their own Monday nights, this seems like it would have been the perfect place for a female-skewing drama.  But it’s just as likely that ABC saw a night that wasn’t struggling and decided to spend its resources fixing numerous other holes. 

While it’s not specifically mentioned in the press release, it’s safe to assume that The Bachelor will air on Monday nights again the winter.

Tuesday –
7:00pm – Selfie/Manhattan Love Story
8:00pm – Marvel’s Agents of SHIELDMarvel’s Agent Carter (bridging SHIELD’s split season)
9:00pm – Forever

SHIELD saw a noticeable uptick in the ratings last year whenever it aired against repeats, indicating that there are some viewers who were choosing NCIS first.  So ABC makes the sensible move and slides SHIELD back an hour where it will steer clear of both NCIS and The Voice.  They also avoid the mistake they made last year with Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.  The original plan with Wonderland was to use it to bridge the two halves of Once Upon a Time’s season.  But the network decided instead to air on Thursdays, debut it in October, and then pull it from the schedule when Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal went on hiatus.  The result was pretty much a disaster for both Wonderland and OUaT’s Sunday timeslot, which needed Resurrection’s debut to recover.  This year, though, ABC will use Agent Carter, which follows Haley Atwell’s character following the events of the original Captain America film, to fill in the gap between SHIELD’s half-seasons, which also allows the network to avoid the numerous repeats and stops-and-starts SHIELD had this winter. 

The rest of the Tuesday schedule looks a lot like what ABC already tried this year, however: a pair of single-camera rookie sitcoms and a new drama.  I find it unlikely that the network will succeed where it failed last year, though SHIELD might give the same boost to Forever that it gave to The Goldbergs.  Those comedies look very shaky, though.

Wednesday –
7:00pm – The Middle/The Goldbergs
8:00pm – Modern Family/Black-ish
9:00pm – Nashville

Modern Family finally gets its family comedy lead-out, one year too late for Trophy Wife.  Otherwise, not much here changes.  The Goldbergs slots in behind The Middle for what seems like a more natural pairing than either Back in the Game or Suburgatory did this past year and, after some last-minute financial wrangling, Nashville returns for a full 22-episode season.  Networks are a little more lenient with actors taking other gigs, but I wonder how available Laurence Fishburne will be for Black-ish given Hannibal’s renewal.  He’s an executive producer for the series and prominently featured in the production stills but has already been downgraded from regular to recurring actor.  No matter, the “torn between two worlds” nature of this sitcom intrigues me and I’m always interested in shows from new voices, in this case writer and producer Kenya Barris.

Thursday –
7:00pm – Grey’s Anatomy
8:00pm – Scandal
9:00pm – How to Get Away with Murder

I wondered in my upfront preview if ABC would be willing to move one of its two strongest shows to another night or if they would rather try to counter-program against CBS’s Thursday Night Football.  The answer is obviously “counter-program” and aggressively so.  The network decided to double-down on Shonda Rhimes (who also signed a new four-year development deal with the network this morning) by moving Grey’s and Scandal up to slot her new Viola Davis-starring drama, How to Get Away with Murder, in at 9:00. 

This is a brilliant move because it kills two birds with one stone.  First, it gives ABC a powerful, female-centric lineup to run against the male-skewing NFL.  Second, it shores up what had been an incredibly troubling timeslot for the network for almost a decade now.  The last show to have any success on Thursdays at 7:00 was Ugly Betty, which aired in the timeslot for three years from 2006-2009.  Other than that show, however, the last series to air more than one season there was Whose Line Is it Anyway, back in 2001.

The real adventure comes in February when The Blacklist moves to 8:00pm opposite Scandal.  These were the two highest-rated dramas on broadcast television last year, so it will be interesting to see if they can coexist or if somebody will have to run away.

Friday –
7:00pm – Last Man Standing/Cristela
8:00pm – Shark Tank
9:00pm – 20/20

Shark Tank seems like too strong of a show to not try and use it as a lead-in for something else, but ABC seems content to keep it at 8:00.  The only change here is new comedy Cristela getting the slot previously inhabited by Malibu Country and The Neighbors.  Hopefully it will have better luck than its predecessors.

Sunday –
7:00pm – Once Upon a TimeGalavant (bridging OUaT’s split season)
8:00pm – Resurrection
9:00pm – Revenge

Sunday nights, like Mondays, stay largely the same, with ABC’s spring schedule returning in its entirety.  It’s already been announced that Resurrection will not air a full 22-episode season (the currently speculation has it between 16 and 18), so the only question is whether they will put it on a midseason hiatus with Once Upon a Time and Revenge, or if they keep airing it with midseason bridge show Galavant and whatever else ABC decides to air on Sunday nights in January and February.

For as many holes as ABC has, it’s a little surprising that Tuesday is the only night debuting more than one new series, but the moves on every other night seem reasonable.  There’s a bit of a question of whether Scandal’s audience will follow to a new show or if it will be more like Lost in its ability (or inability) to launch new series.  Tuesdays also still seem very questionable. But there is potential here for growth, which ABC desperately needs more than any other network.  As I've said before, they don't necessarily need more superstars, so long as their new shows don't completely bomb, as they did this fall.

Tyler Williams is a professional librarian and amateur television critic.  You can reach him at tytalkstv AT gmail DOT com or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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