Tim Allen to anchor second night of comedy
ABC is hoping lightning strikes twice for Tim Allen, whose new series “Last Man Standing” will anchor a second night of comedy on Tuesday as the Alphabet plots a thorough overhaul of its primetime sked next season.
ABC is casting a wide net with no less than 13 new scripted series ordered for the 2011-12 season, ranging from the popcorn fare of “Charlie’s Angels” to period drama “Pan Am” to decidedly guy-centric comedies including “Man Up” and “Work It.”
While much of the new schedule is heavy on escapist fare, ABC Entertainment Group prexy Paul Lee described “Standing” as a “grounded” comedy that will appeal to both men and women. As the star of ABC’s “Home Improvement,” Allen toplined one of the biggest sitcom hits, and ABC’s signature comedy, of the 1990s.
“We think the winds are really blowing behind comedy right now,” Lee said during a powwow with reporters Tuesday morning.
Mouse House brass kicked off the presentation to advertisers at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall later in the day with a pitch for the network’s effectiveness in marketing beyond TV across all digital platforms.
“We’re not waiting for others to build the technology we need to connect with our viewers,” Disney-ABC TV Group prexy Anne Sweeney said. “We’re inventing it.”
Lee commanded the stage for the rest of the sesh, though he may have regretted the two breaks he took: First he ceded the stage to Allen, who couldn’t resist directing some good-natured japes at the British-born Lee.
“You can dump the accent, you got the job,” Allen joked.
ABC latenight stalwart Jimmy Kimmel also stepped in for Lee only to pick up where Allen left off. “Who better to lead the American Broadcasting Company than an English guy with a Korean last name,” he quipped.
As has become tradition for ABC’s upfronts in recent years, Kimmel did about 10 minutes of stand-up material that ripped into just about everything in the TV industry, including Donald Trump, new NBC Entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt and of course, the new star of CBS’ “Two and a Half Men,” Ashton Kutcher. Noting the network’s intent to “retool” ‘Two and a Half Men,” he remarked, “Sure enough, they found another tool.”
But Kimmel praised Kutcher, too. “He did a great job replacing Bruce Willis,” Kimmel quipped.
As usual Kimmel didn’t spare his own network, taking particular delight in savaging ABC reality series “Shark Tank.”
“You know what someone should invent on ‘Shark Tank?’ ” he asked. “A replacement for ‘Shark Tank.’ ”
In outlining the scheduling moves, Lee laid out his rationale for a fall lineup that will see changes on five of seven nights.
“Standing” will be teamed with another manly themed half-hour, “Man Up,” to launch a Tuesday 8-9 p.m. comedy block in the fall. While the results edition of “Dancing With the Stars” will continue to occupy the 9 p.m. timeslot on Tuesdays, it will make way for a pair of new comedies at the close of its cycle, returnee “Cougar Town” and newbie “Apartment 23.”
In addition, two new will join the existing Wednesday comedy block. After creating some buzz despite so-so ratings in its late midseason run that began last month, ensembler “Happy Endings” will get the coveted post-“Modern Family” slot at 9:30. “Suburgatory” takes the slot after “The Middle” at 8:30.
Four new dramas will also be on tap for the fall, with retro-styled “Pan Am” replacing the cancelled “Brothers and Sisters” at 10 p.m. on Sunday. Fantasy-mystery “Once Upon a Time” also joins the night at 8 p.m., replacing reality staple “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” which is moving to Friday at 8.
“When you look at that audience, it’s a classic audience for family viewing,” said Lee of “Makeover” viewing. “We think it’s the perfect place to move Friday back to family-viewing nights.”
“Charlie’s Angels” will be deployed Thursday at 8 p.m. while sudser “Revenge” comes in Wednesday at 10.
Still awaiting midseason berths are dramas “Good Christian Belles,” “The River,” “Missing” and “Scandal.”
“We are just as ambitious for our midseason launches as we are for our fall,” said Lee, citing the influence of his days in cable, as prexy of ABC Family, as the reason he believes in year-round scheduling.
Media buyers were generally positive on ABC’s ambitious approach. The Alphabet is under pressure to turn around its slump of the past two seasons. The network is poised to end this season in third place in adults 18-49 (2.4 rating/7 share, down 11% from 2009-10) and total viewers (8.4 million, down 2%).
Brad Adgate, director of research at Horizon Media, said it’s high time ABC gave new shows a shot — particularly comedies — with a schedule starting to show some age. “Clearly the network needs some new blood given some of that stuff, like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Desperate Housewives,’ is still serviceable but getting old,” he said. “They’ve got some interesting comedies between ‘Apartment 23,’ which looks good, and Tim Allen looks like he’s still a pretty funny TV star.”
Lee plans to use big-event programming, including the Oscars, as a launch pad for new series, though he said no plans are set as for which midseason shows will be scheduled.
Lee also said he would stagger the series launches throughout the fall rather than concentrate too many bows in the traditional September premiere week to avoid the crush of new programs vying for attention.