In a sense, ABC’s penchant for big, promotable concepts is tailor-made toward the abbreviation required by upfront presentations, right up until the actual series go on the air. Yet despite ABC Entertainment Prez Paul Lee’s giddiness and enthusiasm throughout, the network’s barrage of clips offered only sporadic cause for the kind of enthusiasm he exhibited for, well, pretty much everything.
On the plus side, the centerpiece of the network’s presentation, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” looked big, cinematic and enticing, and ABC (like Marvel, now part of Disney) has a lot riding on this “Avengers” brand extension — not the least being that the network is rather inexplicably using the show not just to lead off its Tuesday lineup, but as the launching pad for three more new series that will also air that night.
In the history of TV, the number of primetime nights that failed to feature a single returning program are almost as rare as the times that strategy has worked; still, ABC doubtless thinks a TV show related to a movie that made more than $600 million in the U.S. isn’t a completely unproven commodity. We’ll see.
Incidentally, ABC still hasn’t explained how Clark Gregg — who was conspicuously killed in the movie — returns as Agent Coulson, but given the geek-cool and humor he brings to the role, it’s hard to blame them for trying. (Just please don’t be his twin brother.) But the basic notion of having S.H.I.E.L.D. as a vanguard against super threats does fit the procedural mode and offer the possibility of bringing a broader audience to the set, which was clearly the Alphabet network’s strategy in putting its Wonderland-based “Once Upon a Time” spinoff on Thursdays at 8.
Otherwise, ABC’s development was, not surprisingly, utterly hit-miss, although the shows that exhibited promise looked potentially better than anything NBC or Fox has showcased thus far. Foremost among those were “Resurrection” — a well-cast, provocative limited series about a little boy who apparently returns, decades later, after dying in an accident — and “Super Fun Night,” a vehicle for comic Rebel Wilson. Having struggled mightily to find anything that sticks behind “Modern Family,” ABC finally has something that should provoke some preliminary excitement. (One suspects “The Goldbergs,” a 1980s-set sitcom that will follow “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” was also developed for that purpose, and if the network’s smart, it’ll get a post-“Family” preview before occupying its regular slot.)
Not surprisingly, ABC also used the event to stage a full-court press on behalf of Jimmy Kimmel — whose “Insult the advertisers” shtick, always pretty funny, wasn’t his best — and “Good Morning America,” which has become a bright spot for the network, while primetime has experienced its setbacks. Disney/ABC TV Group chief Anne Sweeney also paid tribute to Barbara Walters, who received a standing ovation, though as always, Sweeney would benefit from dialing back the rah-rah salesmanship and truncating those opening remarks.
ABC did enjoy one pleasant surprise this season with the ratings growth for “Scandal,” but the network needs a couple of solid hits to augment a lineup where the increasingly geriatric “Dancing With the Stars” has been wisely reduced to one night. In that regard, while the limited series “Betrayal” looked almost absurdly soapy and the drama “Killer Women” absurd, they could hardly be any more ridiculous than “Revenge” has become.
Based on Tuesday’s preview, ABC will go into the fall armed with a pretty formidable “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and a couple of other potential weapons in its arsenal.
“Why just watch when you can feel,” asked a promo in the network’s taped pieces.
For now, simply inspiring people to watch — as opposed to, say, lunging for the remote — would be a pretty good start.
Preliminary grade: B
(Upfront presentations are graded on a curve, so all evaluations are subject to revision at the end of the week.)