If buzz and ratings points were the same thing, the folks at ABC could just declare victory and take off the next nine months.
That’s because the Alphabet has the most-talked-about new shows of the fall. Skeins such as “Ugly Betty,” “The Nine” and “Knights of Prosperity” are generating strong word of mouth from crix, even while young hits such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Lost” continue to burn up the blogosphere as fans await their return.
That’s the good news. Unfortunately, ABC also has more shows to launch than any other network, with plans to roll out up to nine new series by mid-November. Add in the fact that ABC won’t have Monday Night Football this fall for the first time in more than 35 years, and that’s a whole bunch of change to sell to viewers.
Alphabet entertainment boss Steve McPherson doesn’t need to be reminded of the challenge facing him.
“We’re rebuilding. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he says. “I think there’s risk in it, no question. But if you look at our options and you weight out what assets we had to play (and) where we had to play them, this is the best scenario.”
As if launching nine shows weren’t tough enough, ABC is upping the change factor even more by shifting megahit “Grey’s” from Sunday at 10 to Thursdays at 9. It’s the gutsiest move of the year, by far — but one that could propel the Alphabet into first place among adults 18-49.
“We needed to move it to build our schedule,” McPherson says.
Key to the “Grey’s” shift paying off is how well ABC does with three particular new shows: “Brothers & Sisters” (which replaces “Grey’s” on Sundays); “The Nine” (airing post-“Lost”) and “Six Degrees” (following “Grey’s” on Thursdays). If two of the frosh skeins hit with auds — and “Grey’s” holds on to a big chunk of its Sunday numbers — McPherson will be able to breathe a big sigh of relief.
It’s worth remembering, however, that ABC also whipped up strong interest in many of its shows last season. And at last check, “Commander in Chief,” “Invasion” and “Night Stalker” weren’t coming back for year two.
BROTHERS & SISTERS
When: 10, Sundays
The plot: Screwed-up sibs seek solace.
Exec producers: Ken Olin, Jon Robin Baitz, Marti Noxon
What works: No clue, since ABC has yet to send out screeners. But the show’s cast is deep with talent: Sally Field, Rachel Griffiths, Calista Flockhart and Ron Rifkin.
What doesn’t: The fact that the pilot is being reshot is never a good thing.
The Bottom line: It has big shoes to fill, stepping in for “Grey’s Anatomy.”
HELP ME HELP YOU
When: 9:30, Tuesdays
The plot: Ted Danson plays an egotistical therapist who leads group therapy with an eclectic bunch of misfits. Hi, Ted!
Exec producers: Jennifer Konner, Alexandra Rushfield, Alex Reid
What works: Danson’s star power should never be underestimated.
What doesn’t: Comedies about crazy folks have been done to death.
Bottom line: It’s the only comedy in that slot, so if viewers are in the mood to laugh, it has a chance.
KNIGHTS OF PROSPERITY
When: 9, Tuesdays
The plot: Average Joes decide to rob Mick Jagger.
Exec producers: Rob Burnett, Jon Beckerman, Mick Jagger, Victoria Pearman
What works: Donal Logue and his band of merry misfits are the funniest blue-collar ensemble since, well, last year’s “My Name Is Earl.” And Mick Jagger steals every scene he’s in.
What doesn’t: Mick won’t be in every episode. And what’s season two?
Bottom line: Inspired comedy that could click.
MEN IN TREES
When: 9, Fridays
The plot: Anne Heche is a successful relationship author who heads to Alaska after finding out her fiance is cheating.
Exec producers: Jenny Bicks, James Mangold, Cathy Konrad
What works: Heche is the most appealing she’s been in years, and the whole cast is winning. The hour feels like a solid romantic feature.
What doesn’t: The “Northern Exposure” vibe is a bit too powerful at times.
Bottom line: The audience for this kind of show exists, but maybe not on Friday night.
When: 10, Wednesdays
The plot: A bank robbery-turned-hostage situation causes nine strangers to (metaphorically) crash into one another, changing their lives forever.
Exec producers: Hank Steinberg, Alex Graves
What works: The tension of Spike Lee’s “Inside Man” meets the rich character study that is “Lost” in what’s easily the best small-screen drama of all the new shows.
What doesn’t: Viewers may have to work too hard to keep track of what’s going on.
Bottom line: If the storytelling can become a bit more linear, this could be the perfect companion for “Lost.”
NOTES FROM THE UNDERBELLY
When: To be determined
The plot: A year (well, nine months) in the life of a pregnant couple.
Exec producers: Stacy Traub, Barry Sonnenfeld, Kim Tannenbaum, Eric Tannenbaum
What works: Funny, smart writing and subject matter that’s universal.
What doesn’t: Do they have a new kid every season?
Bottom line: It’s wonderful to have a baby … but the jury’s still out on watching someone else have one.
When: 10, Thursdays
The plot: Six Gothamites don’t realize their lives are intersecting — not yet, at least.
Exec producers: J.J. Abrams, Stuart Zicherman, Raven Metzner, Carol Flint, Bryan Burk
What works: Despite the high concept, this is really just a good old-fashioned relationship drama filled with interesting characters and some good soapy twists.
What doesn’t: It’s clear Abrams was shooting “MI3” during the making of the pilot, which lacks the richness of his best work.
Bottom line: Not the post-“Grey’s Anatomy” home run ABC would like, but give it time.
When: 8, Thursdays
The plot: An ugly duckling (America Ferrera) sets the fashion world on its head by simply being (gasp) herself.
Exec producers: Salma Hayek, Silvio Horta, Ben Silverman, Jose Tamez, James Parriott, James Hayman
What works: Just about everything in this funny, touching and engrossing translation of a Latin American classic.
What doesn’t: It’s a tough timeslot, going up against “Survivor” and NBC’s hot comedy duo of “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office.”
Bottom line: One way or another, “Betty” will find her audience.
AMERICA’S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS
Premiere: Oct. 1 (season 17)
Timeslot: 7, Sundays and 8, Fridays
Cast changes: None
Storyline: Families send in footage of their kids accidentally hurting Mom or Dad and comedy ensues.
THE BACHELOR: ROME
Premiere: Oct. 2 (season 10)
Timeslot: 9, Mondays
Cast changes: Prince Lorenzo Borghese is the new bachelor.
Storyline: In Rome, the prince will romance 25 single women, eliminating one each week until deciding which woman has captured his heart.
Premiere: Sept. 19 (season 3)
Timeslot: 10, Tuesdays
Cast changes: None.
Storyline: Daniel Post, now engaged to Denise, is arrested for trafficking in human body parts. Alan Shore reunites passionately with Marlene.
DANCING WITH THE STARS
Premiere: Sept. 12 (season 3)
Timeslot: 8, Tuesdays
Cast changes: Participants include Jerry Springer, Tucker Carlson, Mario Lopez, Emmitt Smith and Harry Hamlin
Storyline: Celebrities take part in a ballroom dancing competition.
Premiere: Sept. 24 (season 3)
Timeslot: 9, Sundays
Cast changes: Kyle MacLaughlin, Dougray Scott and Josh Henderson join the cast.
Storyline: Susan initiates a relationship with an Englishman whose comatose wife lies in a hospital room near Mike, Bree marries Orson, and Edie’s 17-year-old nephew moves in. The first part of the season builds up to a hostage situation in a supermarket where one of the leading characters gets murdered.
EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION
Premiere: Sept. 24 (season 4)
Timeslot: 8, Sundays
Cast changes: Designer Daniel Kucan is out; John Littlefield is in.
Storyline: The design and construction teams battle the clock while rebuilding homes for deserving people.
Premiere: Sept. 21 (season 3)
Timeslot: 9, Thursdays (new)
Cast changes: Sara Ramirez becomes a regular.
Storyline: Meredith and Derek struggle to deal with their feelings for each other as Izzie copes with Denny’s death.
Premiere: Oct. 4 (season 3)
Timeslot: 9, Wednesdays
Cast changes: Henry Ian Cusick and Michael Emerson become regulars.
Storyline: Jack, Kate and Sawyer open the season in captivity as prisoners of the Others. Who these Others are and what they want are explored further.
WHAT ABOUT BRIAN
Premiere: Oct. 9 (season 2)
Timeslot: 10, Mondays
Cast changes: Jason George and Amanda Foreman join the cast.
Storyline: Six months have passed since Brian left town following a heartbreaking blowout with Marjorie. He returns home hoping to make things right with Adam and the rest of the group before Adam and Marjorie’s wedding.
Premiere: Sept. 18 (season 3)
Timeslot: 8, Mondays
Cast changes: Contestants are used on a rotating basis.
Storyline: Two wives switch households and see the difficulties of other family’s lives from a different dynamic.
— returning show capsules compiled by Paula Hendrickson