Playing Both Sides Against the Middle

Along with a new Muppets, ABC’s big change comes with short-run midseason entries

STRATEGY: Avoiding repeats by splitting up seasons, creating opportunities for more originals.

ABC is sending an “If it ain’t broke” message to buyers following its strong 2014-15 campaign. The network’s fall schedule features few changes, with no shifts at all on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday prime. “We obviously kept much of our schedule intact,” ABC entertainment group president Paul Lee said prior to the ABC upfront, May 12 at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.

Comedy Fresh Off the Boat will remain on Tuesdays, pushed to 8:30 p.m., leading out of a revival of The Muppets, featuring Jim Henson’s popular characters.

The rebooted Muppets will be starkly different than the classic TV show; Lee described the new version as a cross between The Office and 30 Rock, including a faux-documentary style that will feature the characters talking to the camera. “This is not the old Muppets,” he affirmed. Once that show finishes its run, Fresh Off the Boat will move back to 8 p.m. and lead into another new comedy, The Real O’Neals.

Midseason replacements will be a major theme next year, as longer-episode series will have their seasons split into fall and spring batches with shorter-run series filling the gaps, helping ABC avoid repeats.

0503_RookieClass_ABC.jpgMarvel series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will continue to air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. and lead into another new series in FBI drama Quantico at 10 p.m. Fellow rookie Wicked City takes over its time slot during the midseason break. Marvel’s other ABC series Agent Carter will again fill S.H.I.E.L.D.’s void during midseason.

Though Marvel and ABC were developing a spinoff of S.H.I.E.L.D. starring Adrianne Palicki and Nick Blood, Lee said it was more important for them to remain with the main show, though he said they would revisit a possible spinoff in the future.

“We think S.H.I.E.L.D. really hit its creative stride this year,” he said. “We thought it was the right time now to leave them on S.H.I.E.L.D.” He had no update on the net’s secretive Marvel project with American Crime’s John Ridley.

Ken Jeong of the Hangover films brings the net a second Asian-American family comedy with Dr. Ken, Fridays at 8:30 following Last Man Standing, sharing the time slot with its Uncle Buck remake. For the first time, ABC will split Nashville’s season into two parts, with Secrets & Lies filling the midseason gap; Lee confirmed Juliette Lewis will return for season 2.

With Resurrection and Revenge off the schedule, ABC will air two new dramas Sunday, as Oil (formerly the Untitled Pate & Fishburne Project) leads into Biblical saga Of Kings and Prophets. Once Upon a Time will keep its slot, following America’s Funniest Home Videos.

The Catch, a fourth Shonda Rhimes-produced drama, will take over for How to Get Away With Murder once it’s season is finished. ABC will do the same with drama The Family, which will air in place of Kings and Prophets once its season is finished. The Family will launch out of the Oscars in February.

Lee also confirmed network fixtures Castle and Grey’s Anatomy weren’t going anywhere.

Other big ABC news came at sibling net ESPN’s upfront. John Skipper, ESPN president and cochairman of Disney Media Networks, said ABC would air the ESPYs, with the nets working together on ad packages for their popular New Year’s Eve programming. With sports already part of a consolidated ad sales operation at Disney competitors NBCUniversal and 21st Century Fox, the move makes sense. —with Jon Lafayette