April 3, 2012

THE SKED’S 2012/13 FIRST CUT: ABC Needs & Possibilities


With the television season at Upfronts minus about 6 weeks, Mitch Metcalf, veteran programming executive Ted Frank and I are continuing our survey of the issues each network may and should be thinking about while strategizing its Fall schedule.  Yesterday we covered FOX, and today it’s ABC’s turn under the spotlight.
NOTE:  to the extent specific pilots are discussed or suggested in this series, those mentions are based only on the shows’ auspices and loglines, and not on any knowledge about their actual quality.  Most pilots are still in production as this is being written.
Once upon a time, there was a network that seemed to have everything going for it.  It was stockpiled with hit dramas, had a long-running successful reality franchise, and then it hit the jackpot with a blockbuster comedy.  But the cruelest and most evil curse of all–old age–started insinuating its way into the network’s programming, and the network fell deathly ill, so weak that only a true fairy tale could begin to rescue it…
MONDAY:  There isn’t much to be done about this night.  The DANCING WITH THE STARS ratings cha-cha is starting to resemble physical therapy at the old folks’ home, but even with The Voice running circles around it, the show is still doing around a 3 in the 18-49 demo, and it would be difficult to replace those 2 hours with programming that would do better.  CASTLE has found a loyal, if less than gigantic, audience, and holds its own in the tight 10PM timeslot.

TUESDAYLAST MAN STANDING has been a major disappointment, with recent ratings that are lucky to scrape the low 2s.  It’s a reasonably steady and advertiser-friendly show, though, and is likely to survive into a 2d season.  COUGAR TOWN probably won’t be as lucky, and cast members are already placing themselves into “2d position” pilots.  One possible companion piece for Last Man could be the MANDY MOORE PROJECT, a family comedy that stars Stockard Channing and Kurt Fuller along with Moore.  The network will probably stick with the DANCING WITH THE STARS results show at 9PM, but BODY OF PROOF will soon have an autopsy slab of its own.  ABC is going to try out PRIVATE PRACTICE in that slot starting in mid-April.  If Practice can maintain the low-to-mid 2s it’s been doing on Thursdays even without a Grey’s Anatomy lead-in, it could be a keeper there.
WEDNESDAY:  Ahhhh.  The 4-sitcom night is working beautifully, with SUBURGATORY proving itself very compatible with THE MIDDLE and HAPPY ENDINGS,while no smash, riding a wave of critical love that should get it renewed.   However, the post-MODERN FAMILY slot is a valuable one–we’ll see how DON’T TRUST THE B— IN APT 23 does there next week–and the network could use it to launch something new.  A couple of possibilities:  THE SMART ONE, a sibling comedy with Portia de Rossi, Malin Akerman and Jean Smart, or AMERICAN JUDY, which stars Judy Greer, probably a consensus choice in the “Should Definitely Be A TV Star” race.  It’s been suggested that REVENGE move to Sundays, but the show is only a tenuous success at this point, and moving it could be counterproductive–better to leave it where it is.  
THURSDAY:  8PM has been a disaster all season.  All the network can do is keep trying, and with strong comedy (Big Bang Theory) and reality (X Factor) likely to remain as competition in the hour, it will probably be with a new drama.  Perhaps NASHVILLE, a family soap set in the country music world that stars Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere.  GREY’S ANATOMY has been fading fast, and runs the risk of losing some key cast members if contract renegotiations don’t work out.  It still scores a 3 rating, though, which is nothing to sneeze at these days, so it’s not going anywhere.  ABC will test the new Shonda Rhimes drama SCANDAL in the 10PM slot beginning this week, and if that works, great.  If not, and if Private Practice can survive a move to Tuesdays, the network will probably launch a new soap here, perhaps the rebooted 1970s drama SCRUPLES, with Claire Forlani, Chad Michael Murray and Gary Cole.
FRIDAY:  This could be a night to take some chances for a price, perhaps by catering to the older audiences available on Fridays with family-friendly comedy.  A couple of projects that might fit here:  COUNTER CULTURE, which is to say Golden Girls redux, starring Delta Burke, Doris Roberts, Margo Martindale and Ken Howard, along with MALIBU COUNTRY, with Reba McIntire and Lily Tomlin in the leads.  The rest of the night should be a mix of the returning SHARK TANK, PRIMETIME and 20/20.
SUNDAYONCE UPON A TIME is the best news of the season for ABC, and with DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES departing and GCB having seemingly little chance of sticking around, the network’s biggest challenge will be rebuilding this night.  It could try to launch a more adult-themed supernatural show out of Once, perhaps 666 PARK AVENUE, with Terry O’Quinn, Rachael Taylor and the ABC Sunday vets Dave Annable and Vanessa Williams.  That could lead into a straight soap, with Mark Cherry’s DEVIOUS MAIDS an obvious possibility to lure Housewives fans.  
Tomorrow:  NBC.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."