Using its upfront presentation to maximum advantage, ABC showcased one of the best comedy pilots to come down the pike in a long time with “Modern Family,” shrewdly airing the program in its entirety.
Yielding several laugh-out-loud moments, that half-hour helped dispel some of the skepticism surrounding the Alphabet network’s decision to schedule five new programs — four sitcoms and the hourlong “Witches of Eastwick” adaptation “Eastwick” — on Wednesdays during the fall, which at first blush sounds like a prescription for disaster.
Still, after a weak development crop this spring, ABC appears to have some of the goods to rebound in the coming season, and ABC Entertainment Prez Stephen McPherson rolled the dice not just with “Modern Family” — a Christopher Lloyd-Steven Levitan comedy that features a top-notch cast, among them Ed O’Neill — but also by screening the entire first act of the sci-fi hour “Flash Forward.” The latter features a strong narrative hook, though as always with these things, it’s difficult to tell at this stage whether it’s the next “Lost” or just another “Daybreak.”
McPherson promised to continue “taking the chances that we need to take,” and the lineup appears to accomplish that — getting away from some of the sameness that has plagued ABC’s recent development. The mix includes a CBS-style procedural from Jerry Bruckheimer (“The Forgotten”); a midseason reboot of the 1980s sci-fi series “V” that looks primed (a la “Battlestar Galactica”) to tap into present-day paranoia; and the mystery “Happy Town,” which in its promo actually referenced “Twin Peaks.”
But hey, you can’t have everything, as latenight host Jimmy Kimmel reminded the audience during an extremely clever stand-up set. “Everything you’re gonna hear this week is bullshit,” Kimmel began, joking about ABC’s past failures before skewering NBC — which decided, he said, “We will not allow Jay Leno to go to ABC, even if we have to destroy our own network to keep him.” Sure, it’s a joke, but buried wiithin that punchline is a pretty devastating assessment of how the Leno move could play out in a worst-case scenario. (McPherson also couldn’t resist a swipe at NBC counterpart Ben Silverman’s earlier statement about “managing for margins.”)
The final garnish to ABC’s presentation featured clever promos that mixed and matched characters from established ABC series — putting “Lost’s” Matthew Fox, say, with “Desperate Housewives'” Teri Hatcher. The spots fostered a sense of cohesion across the network’s primetime roster, making some of what has been a negative attribute feel — for a moment, anyway — like an asset.
ABC still faces some tough sledding after a rough 2008-09 campaign, and it renewed a few new programs that haven’t done much as yet to justify that vote of confidence. Still, if the network can get just a couple of these latest seedlings to take root — which after Tuesday’s preview sounds less far-fetched than it might have before — that Wednesday gamble could pay off, which would be a major coup.
Overall grade, subject to revision: A-