ABC is looking to aggressively get back into the sitcom game.
The Alphabet web has announced a fall schedule that includes four new comedies back to back on Wednesday – a big change from last year, when the network entered the fall with just one comedy.
Net also sees an opportunity on Thursdays at 8 p.m. for “Flash Forward,” its new sci-fi-tinged thriller that it is already promoting on-air. And it’s airing two new dramas at 10 p.m. – Bruckheimer entry “The Forgotten” on Tuesdays and the new adaptation of “Eastwick” on Wednesdays (which makes for a completely new lineup that night).
“Comedy’s a big goal,” ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson told reporters Tuesday morning. “We wanted to make a statement on the kind of commitment we have to comedy.”
Later, at the net’s upfront presentation at Lincoln Center, ABC screened the first-act break of “Flash Forward” and the entire pilot to “Modern Family.”
“Family,” in particular, played well with the crowd of advertisers. The net’s comedies appeared to get an overall positive reaction from the audience.
Latenight host Jimmy Kimmel made his annual visit to the presentation, taking jabs at NBC – and ABC’s lineup as well.
The Alphabet will focus a great deal of marketing effort on the Wednesday laffer block, McPherson said. That’s where “Modern Family” will reside, along with three star-driven half-hours: “Hank,” with Kelsey Grammer; “The Middle,” with Patricia Heaton”; and “Cougar Town,” with Courteney Cox.
(ABC’s other marketing push will likely center on the “Flash Forward” launch, which already began at the end of April via viral spots planted during “Lost.”)
It’s not the first time ABC has gone with an all-new Wednesday lineup in recent years. Alphabet net managed to successfully launch three dramas on the night in 2007 (“Pushing Daisies,” “Private Practice” and “Dirty Sexy Money”) – but then the writers strike hit, and the shows’ momentum stalled.
This time around, McPherson admitted the Wednesday strategy faces a tough test – but he said he had faith in the new shows.
“Any time you launch even two new shows together, it’s a challenge,” he acknowledged. “We have some plans for how to roll these out, so we think our chances are good. There’s going to be a lot of interest in the comedies, and ‘Eastwick’ will be a sleeper that people will be surprised by.”The other big move, “Flash Forward” on Thursdays, was hotly debated within the network. Some execs expressed concern that the show didn’t quite mesh with “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice.”
But others noted that “Lost” began its run as an 8 p.m. show and that “Flash Forward,” like “Lost,” has a strong relationship backbone to its sci-fi conceit.
“This is a big decision,” McPherson said. “It’s the most buzzworthy show we have right now. We really wanted to build on the success of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Private Practice’ and bolster our Thursday night. There’s no better lineup in television right now than Thursday nights.”
Meanwhile, McPherson said, the Alphabet is in the hunt to grab some of NBC’s displaced 10 p.m. viewers.
“I think Leno is a different audience, it’s an older audience,” McPherson observed. “It will be interesting to see how many viewers are going to watch that show every night of the week and make an appointment. It throws up an audience for CBS and ourselves. We think the audience may be more compatible with us. That’s going to be the challenge for both CBS and us to grab as much of that as possible.”
ABC and CBS are taking a dramatically different approach to the hour, however. Where the Eye is expected to put older, established dramas at 10, ABC is airing either new shows (“Forgotten,” “Eastwick”) or really young returnees (“Castle,” “Private Practice”).
In “Forgotten,” ABC will finally launch something it has coveted for years: a Jerry Bruckheimer procedural. McPherson developed “CSI” as head of Touchstone TV and watched as his Disney bosses opted out of the show – right before it turned into a mega-smash for CBS.
“Jerry Bruckheimer and I worked together on ‘CSI,’ and he’s gone on to develop a lot of things that beat up on me every week,” McPherson said. “It’s nice to have him on our team.”
On the reality front, ABC will air seven hours of nonscripted programming (not including college football) in the fall.
New reality skein “Shark Tank” will get an early launch from ABC, airing in the summer as the net broadcasts its 10th anniversary run of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in August. “Shark Tank” will then continue into the fall, setting up a two-hour reality block on Tuesday nights.
That means ABC, NBC and Fox will all battle it out with reality in the time frame. ABC’s “Dancing” results show will also face off with Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” – but McPherson said he’s not concerned.
“That was a show they brought on after ‘Dancing’ worked,” McPherson said. “We’ll see how audiences behave. I believe (“So You Think You Can Dance”) trailed off at the end of last summer.”
Alphabet’s other moves include shifting “Ugly Betty” to Friday nights, behind “Supernanny.” Also, laffers “Scrubs” and “Better Off Ted” move into the Tuesday 9 p.m. hour after “Dancing With the Stars” completes its run.
And on Monday nights, two-hour episodes of “The Bachelor” will air Mondays at 8 p.m. between editions of “Dancing With the Stars.”
Not every night is marked by big changes. ABC will keep its Mondays and Sundays intact.
Other nuggets gleaned from ABC’s upfront announcement:
- “Grey’s Anatomy” stars Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight are signed on for next season – “but I don’t know if they’ll be there,” McPherson said.
- ABC picked up most of its new shows from outside suppliers – but McPherson said there remains “a huge business for us in ownership of our own programming.” He added that airing shows from both inside and outside studios – thereby spreading around the financial risk – made financial sense but dismissed the notion that the network picked up shows based on whether it did or didn’t own them.
- McPherson remains ready to schedule “The New Adventures of Old Christine” if CBS opts to pass (although that’s not expected at this point).
- ABC and Warner Bros. TV have a four-part plan for “V,” which could wind up airing as a mix of 13-episode and 22-episode seasons.
“There will be a beginning, middle and end,” McPherson said.
- Zach Braff is indeed confirmed to star in six episodes of “Scrubs” next season, although it’s not certain whether he’ll be in the first six or sprinkled throughout the first 13. (ABC has picked up 18 segs total of “Scrubs” for next year.)
Creator Bill Lawrence is mulling two options for “Scrubs” – either transition the show into another setting (believed to be a teaching hospital, where at least one character could become an instructor) or move on with a new cast but in the same environment.
“It felt like ‘Scrubs’ was a great pairing with ‘Better Off Ted,’ and it felt like Bill had another season in him at least,” McPherson said of the ninth season order.
- In bringing back “Ted,” McPherson said the show had been getting enough critical and online attention that ABC execs wanted to apply some patience and see if it grows.
“Our challenge is to build that show,” he said.
- As for the just-canceled “Samantha Who,” McPherson said the show “ran out of steam.” ABC will air the remaining seven episodes it has in the can sometime this summer.
- And yes, “According to Jim” is dead. Buried. Nothing more to see here.
Here’s a glance at the schedule ABC is set to unveil to advertisers this afternoon in New York:
Mondays: 8 p.m., “Dancing with the Stars” (“The Bachelor” after “Dancing” completes its run); 10 p.m., “Castle”
Tuesdays: 8 p.m., “The Shark Tank” (new reality show); 9 p.m., “Dancing with the Stars Results Show” (“Scrubs” and “Better Off Ted” after “Dancing” completes its run); 10 p.m., “The Forgotten” (new drama)
Wednesday: 8 p.m., “Hank” (new comedy); 8:30 p.m., “The Middle” (new comedy); 9 p.m., “Modern Family” (new comedy); 9:30 p.m., “Cougar Town” (new comedy); 10 p.m., “Eastwick” (new drama)
Thursday: 8 p.m., “Flash Forward” (new drama); 9 p.m., “Grey’s Anatomy”; 10 p.m., “Private Practice”
Friday: 8 p.m., “Supernanny”; 9 p.m., “Ugly Betty”; 10 p.m., “20/20”
Saturday: 8 p.m., College Football
Sunday: 7 p.m., “America’s Funniest Home Videos”; 8 p.m., “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”; 9 p.m., “Desperate Housewives”; 10 p.m., “Brothers & Sisters”
* New shows on the bench for midseason include the dramas “Deep End,” “Happy Town” and “V.” Also waiting in the wings: “True Beauty” and “Wife Swap.”