Comedies key as nets try to improve lineups in fall

One year after ABC’s “Modern Family” and Fox’s “Glee” emerged as the most promising new scripted shows on any network in several years, these skeins surged in the ratings and have developed into top-10 smashes. Now, finding ways to better use these tentpoles to nurture new hits figures to be the biggest priority for both nets in the fall.

ABC and Fox both had some missteps in the timeslots behind these shows this season, but they must be patient.

Comedy, after all, is the best way to keep young adults tuned to the broadcast networks these days. And after seeing their collective median ages rise in recent years thanks to some older-skewing dramas, ABC and Fox figure to be even more aggressive in trying to land the next big laffer hit in the fall.

ABC ordered 10 half-hour comedies, while Fox developed eight — and on paper at least, they represent the best of the broadcast bunch this pilot season. Look for more half-hours this fall than last at both nets.

The Alphabet, which has already renewed three comedies (including Wednesday tentpole “Modern Family”), also has a pair of rookies — the funny but modestly rated “Happy Endings” and the more traditional “Better With You” — that deserve a chance to recruit a larger aud.

How the net gets more laffs on its sked, though, is the big mystery, with a new four-pack on Friday a possibility.

Fox, meanwhile, has been pleased with the modest success of “Raising Hope” and will look to pair it with something else in the Tuesday hour following “Glee.” It also may continue to use the Wednesday 9:30 p.m. half-hour as a comedy slot (something it’s done after a 90-minute “American Idol” this spring) and still has its long-running animated Sunday lineup.

On the drama side, ABC has more needs than Fox, with the latter having limited shelf space due to its shorter 15-hour week and the fall bow of competition series “The X-Factor.”

Here’s a look at the nets heading into their upfronts:

ABC

The net didn’t have a strong freshman class, but it enjoyed some midseason success with Sunday feel-good series “Secret Millionaire” and Tuesday whodunit “Body of Proof.” Both could be on the fall sked.

Monday, with reality vet “Dancing With the Stars” and mystery “Castle,” figures to return intact, as should two-thirds of Tuesday, with the “Dancing” results show followed by “Body of Proof.” Possibilities to kick off the night would be “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” moving over from its longtime home of Sunday, or perhaps a pair of half-hour comedies.

Wednesday, where the ratings for “Modern Family” tower over anything else the net has paired alongside it the last couple of years, figures to see one or two new comedies in a bid for a stronger block. “The Middle” has done reasonably well at 8, and could be asked to return for some stability, but the night’s other two slots are wide open.

Recent addition “Happy Endings” deserves more time to find an audience, and could be part of the net’s comedy expansion, but is this witty “Friends”-like young-adult ensemble the right show to air behind “Modern Family?” The two shows that aired behind “Family” this season — soph “Cougar Town” and frosh “Mr. Sunshine” — fumbled away big chunks of the lead-in, so finding the right show will be key.

Possibilities include the multi-generational family laffers “Smothered” (with Marcia Gay Harden and John C. McGinley) and “My Freakin’ Family” (Cybill Shepherd). The net also has a new Tim Allen laffer that might work in Wednesday’s opening hour, though the net’s last attempt at recasting a star of yesteryear’s comedy success — Kelsey Grammer starrer “Hank” — bombed in 2009.

New ABC entertainment prexy Paul Lee hinted months ago at a desire to possibly recapture the net’s glory days of “TGIF” comedies on Friday. And while there is no sign of Urkel or anything else with much appeal to the under-10 set among ABC’s comedy hopefuls, its pilot list does feature plenty of shows with some appeal to older kids.

Viewing levels remain low on the night, but it’s been a while since a net made a sincere attempt at attracting a comedy audience on Friday — and a block of shows that a 13-year-old can watch with his or her parents may be the way to go.

ABC has another comedy that sounds like fun in “Apartment 23,” but like “Happy Endings,” it seems targeted for a more narrow 18-34 aud; perhaps these two can be paired.

Elsewhere, the net’s new drama take on “Charlie’s Angels” sounds like a fun way to open Thursday and perhaps give “Grey’s Anatomy” some lead-in support. “Private Practice” likely will return at 10, though the net shouldn’t let another year go by without trying to use top drama “Grey’s” as a lead-in to something new.

Sunday could use some fresher elements surrounding “Desperate Housewives” at 9, with “Secret Millionaire” perhaps opening the season at 8, and the provocatively titled “Good Christian Bitches” a likely good fit behind “Housewives.”

Additional appealing pilots perhaps looking for a slot on the sked include 1840s crime procedural “Poe” (yes, Edgar Allan) and Shonda Rhimes’ crisis management drama “Damage Control,” with Wednesday at 10 a possibility for both.

Fox

Assuming “House” returns on Mondays and “X-Factor” takes on the “American Idol” sked pattern (90 minutes on Wednesday and an hour on Thursday), the net doesn’t need too many new dramas in the fall.

After failing to click in the post-“House” hour this season with “Lone Star” and “The Chicago Code,” look for Fox to make the Monday 9 p.m. hour a priority. Among the shows that might make for a good fit (and take advantage of football promotion on Sunday — provided an NFL season is forthcoming) are the Ethan Hawke spy thriller “Exit Strategy” and psych-unit drama “Weekends at Bellevue.”

Following “Glee” on Tuesdays, look for “Raising Hope” and perhaps the promising new half-hour “Family Album,” which stars “Glee” thesp Mike O’Malley as a former jock who embarks on a vacation with his extended family.

On Wednesday, the post-“X-Factor” slot at 9:30 could make sense for “The New Girl,” starring Zooey Deschanel as a young teacher who moves in with three unruly guys. Current ocupant “Breaking Bad” has its core fans and could be brought back at midseason.

Thursday at 9 could be the home for Steven Spielberg’s dino drama “Terra Nova,” as the net could use something big and noisy in a competitive hour that includes “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Office.”

While “Fringe” has done decently Fridays at 9, the show has looked pretty solid when a full week’s worth of DVR playback is included. To get more people to watch “Fringe” on the night it airs, Fox may want to sked a stronger, more compatible lead-in like “Bones” for 8 o’clock.

“Bones” spinoff “The Finder,” meanwhile, might be better served for midseason, as it could fit in just about anywhere.

The net has ordered two new comedies for Sunday (“Allen Gregory” and “Napoleon Dynamite”), and one of these could start the season, with the other saved for midseason. The night could use some sprucing up, as recent additions like “Bob’s Burgers” and “The Cleveland Show” have done merely OK.

How Fox fares in the fall overall will depend, appropriately enough, largely on “X-Factor,” but regardless, the net would appear to have stronger backup among scripted skeins this time around.

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