ABC mapped out its fall strategy on Tuesday, leaving its hottest shows in place, taking big swings in some of its most troubled timeslots and smartly reducing its reliance on “Dancing With the Stars.”
Four comedies and four dramas join the lineup, and this could be tough to promote, but only one returning show shifts nights, which is a plus. Tuesday, for good reason, gets a head-to-toe makeover as ABC tumbled by about 30% from last year — the biggest nightly decline in regular-program 18-49 averages for any network across the week.
This night, which features half of the net’s new programs in the fall, opens with “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” a good slot for a show that has male and family appeal and figures to be promoted during sister net ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The other drama closing the night, lottery-winner tale “Lucky 7,” also could resonate with men and feels right here in an hour where there has been no particularly strong performers in recent years.
While those shows make sense, the choice to go with two new family comedies in the Tuesday at 9 hour is a bit of a head-scratcher. You kinda wonder if ABC had penciled in “Shark Tank” for Tuesday at 9 and these comedies Friday at 9, but felt compelled to change them when NBC shifted “The Voice” to the 9 o’clock hour on Tuesday and Fox went with family comedies Friday at 9. If the “S.H.I.E.L.D.” is the hit that ABC hopes kicking off the night, though, anything scheduled for 9 would benefit, and perhaps ABC likes the fact that the only competing comedies in the hour are Fox’s returning — and hardly intimidating — young-adult laffers “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project.” (Also, the comedies may have fit better on Friday but would get a considerably smaller lead-in than on Tuesday after “SHIELD.”)
The reason why ABC has three, and not two, open hours on Tuesday is because it has eliminated the “Dancing With the Stars” results show, which had aired on the night but is a shadow of its former ratings self and disrupted program flow because of its older, heavily female skew. (The removal of the “Dancing” results show also may be the biggest reason for the cancellation of “Body of Proof,” which had followed it on Tuesday.)
ABC had to be considering resting “Dancing” and going with “The Bachelor” in the fall, but it’s giving the fading hoofing series another shot. I’m still of the belief that a few real “stars” could result in a ratings bounce for the show, where the most recognizable celeb on the current edition was Andy Dick. And perhaps the change in format, requiring celebs to appear just once a week, might open up the field of potential stars.
The choices for new comedies on Wednesday make sense, with “Back in the Game” (a James Caan-fronted family show with baseball elements) a reasonable choice between “The Middle” and “Modern Family” — two of the net’s few existing series that draw some men. And Rebel Wilson is one of the hotter stars in any new show for the fall, so why not put it after the net’s biggest show?
The choice to lead off Thursday with “Once Upon a Time” spinoff “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” is a good one, but also a surprise, as it was assumed by most that the spinoff would spell the original on Sunday at some point in the season. ABC has struggled Thursday at 8, but having something of a known commodity will help. But it will need to find a post-Oscars drama for Thursdays at 8 as “Wonderland” is being billed as a 13-week event, with the procedural “Killer Women” a possibility.
There had been some thought that ABC would move “Scandal” off Thursday to boost another night, but keeping it and “Grey’s Anatomy” together ensures a strong night for the net, and with “Wonderland,” it has a chance to have a lock on young women looking for drama.
Sunday sees the return of “Once Upon a Time” and “Revenge,” both of which looked shaky in their second seasons, followed by new soap “Betrayal.” ABC might have wanted to slot “Betrayal” at 9 to benefit from a stronger lead-in, but may have been scared of putting it opposite cable juggernaut “The Walking Dead.” If “Betrayal” fails to get much sampling, though, as was the case with newbies “666 Park Avenue” and “Red Widow” in the hour this season, ABC may be forced to face the music that a new show just won’t work Sundays at 10.
Overall, ABC has made some good moves and should be able to get some tune-in in the Tuesday and Thursday leadoff hours — where the bar was set very low this year with the likes of “Splash,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “Last Resort” and “Zero Hour.”