ABC: Execs Spinning Victory From Defeat

Despite network’s fourth-place finish this past season, brass claims it will enter next fall riding high

Why This Matters

STRATEGY: Reinvent Tuesday night again, and bank on Shonda Rhimes and Marvel to pull the network out of its slump.

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“We’ve been the No. 1 network for the last four years in a row,” ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee said onstage at his broadcast network’s upfront presentation May 13. It was a powerful talking point. It was also untrue by almost any measure imaginable.

Lee misspoke, having meant to claim that the network had led the ratings for the last four weeks in a row. The flub came amid a flurry of subjective declarations of victory—that ABC has “more social franchises than anyone else,” that it is “the No. 1 recommendation engine,” that it is “the No. 1 brand on television in America, not just for women, but for adults 18 to 49.”

In reality, through May 6 ABC ranked last among the Big Four in most current (live-plus-seven and liveplus- same-day for the two most recent weeks) Nielsen ratings for adults 18-49, and is poised for a last-place finish for the season. Lee later corrected himself onstage, but not before the network’s premier late-night host, Jimmy Kimmel, during an interlude in which he roasted all four networks, called his boss out.

“I don’t know what 17-mile-long hadron collider they spun that one in, but the ABC I work at is not No. 1,” Kimmel said. “In fact, we might need to crash on your couch for a while.”

Spinning is part of every network chief’s upfront gig, as is hyping the new fall schedule. ABC’s remains unchanged on Monday nights, where it will once again start the fall with Dancing With the Stars at 8 p.m. and Castle at 10.

Tuesday will again be subject to the most upheaval for the network—which boasted a lineup made entirely of new series last fall. Returning freshman drama Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will shift from 8 to 9 p.m. It will be preceded by new comedies Selfie and Manhattan Love Story and followed by new drama Forever.

Wednesday, “the heart of the lineup,” as Lee called it, will see The Middle and Modern Family remain at 8 and 9 p.m., respectively, with returning series The Goldbergs sliding in between at 8:30 p.m. after following S.H.I.E.L.D. at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays last fall. ABC will attempt to launch new comedy Black-ish in the post-Modern Family slot at 9:30 p.m.—where new comedies Super Fun Night and Mixology, both canceled, failed to take root this season.

Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal will each move up one hour on Thursdays, to 8 and 9 p.m., respectively, making way for new drama How to Get Away With Murder at 10 p.m. All three series are executive produced by Shonda Rimes, who has extended her deal with ABC Studios through 2018.

“I call her the Charles Dickens of the 21st Century, if Charles Dickens had been black and a woman,” Lee said when introducing Rhimes, whose creative pedigree gives Thursday nights on ABC a strong female slant as the network prepares to face CBS’ new Thursday Night Football package.

On Friday night, ABC will premiere new comedy Cristela at 8:30 p.m., following Last Man Standing.

The Sunday-night slate will continue to begin with America’s Funniest Home Videos, with Once Upon a Time and returning freshmen Resurrection and Revenge following.

Drama series American Crime will take over the 9 p.m. Sunday time period when Resurrection’s season ends. ABC will use new series Marvel’s Agent Carter and Galavant to fill the gap between the fall finales and midseason premieres of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Once Upon a Time, respectively.

The new dramas Secrets and Lies and The Whispers, as well as comedy Fresh Off the Boat, have yet to be scheduled.

THE ROOKIE CLASS

COMEDIES

BLACK-ISH: Anthony Anderson plays a father afraid that his family is losing touch with its African-American roots.

CRISTELA: Creator Cristela Alonzo stars as a legal intern trying to balance work and family.

FRESH OFF THE BOAT: Based on chef Eddie Huang’s memoir about moving to Florida with his immigrant parents.

GALAVANT: A musicalcomedy fairy tale from writer Dan Fogelman and producer Alan Menken.

MANHATTAN LOVE STORY: From writer Jeff Lowell, this romantic comedy takes viewers inside the minds of a man and woman who meet on a blind date.

SELFIE: A contemporary retelling of My Fair Lady, written and executive produced by Suburgatory creator Emily Kapnek.

DRAMAS

 

AMERICAN CRIME: Writer, director and executive producer John Ridley looks at how a violent crime affects the victims’ loved ones and those accused.

FOREVER: A procedural about an immortal man who is also a gifted medical examiner, from writer and executive producer Matt Miller.

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER: A legal suspense thriller starring Viola Davis, executive produced by Shonda Rhimes with writer Peter Nowalk.

MARVEL’S AGENT CARTER: Hayley Atwell stars in a spinoff of the Captain America films.

SECRETS AND LIES: A Good Samaritan is suspected of killing his neighbor’s son, from writer and executive producer Barbie Kligman.

THE WHISPERS: Aliens invade Earth in a drama from Steven Spielberg, written and coexecutive produced by Soo Hugh.