ABC’s upfront presentation on Tuesday featured a little humility, a milestone moment for the TV industry and a whole lot of Priyanka Chopra.
ABC brass acknowledged the network’s weaknesses during the past year and vowed to improve with a range of new series, including an increase in the volume of comedies and the decidedly male-skewing “Designated Survivor” drama starring Kiefer Sutherland.
Here are 10 things we learned from ABC’s presentation at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall:
- Disney/ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood opted for the humble approach in addressing media buyers about the network’s performance during the past season. Like his peers at NBC and Fox, Sherwood referenced the massive changes in the industry — “this is a defining moment for our networks and for television” — but he also acknowledged ABC’s third-place position. “We believe in better,” he assured them.
- ABC made history in March when Channing Dungey became the first African-American woman to head entertainment for a broadcast network. That milestone was reinforced as she gave the rundown of ABC’s strategy and creative thinking as she presented the night-by-night detail of the fall 2016 schedule. The upfront fell on her three-month anniversary in the role.
- Dungey utterly charmed the room in talking about being so obsessed with TV as a kid that she would make audio recordings of her favorite shows, including “Charlie’s Angels,” “Hart to Hart” and “Remington Steele,” she said. “Somewhere in my parent’s attic is a box of audio tapes just waiting to be played.”
- ABC like NBC and Fox emphasized the strength of the connection that the network’s shows make with fans and the cultural impact they can have — heightening their importance as a place for sponsor messages. Dungey also touted the high level of social media presence that many of ABC’s showrunners have cultivated — going so far as to flash some of their tweets on the giant screen behind her. What used to be a one-way conversation has turned into a robust dialogue between storytellers and the audience,” she said.
- Dungey has been the network’s biggest champion of the anthology series “American Crime,” which has drawn critical raves but low viewership. She got a round of applause after telling the crowd that it would be back for a third edition.
- Dungey also made news by announcing a new three-year contract extension with Jimmy Kimmel for “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” ABC’s late-night mainstay as usual killed with his rapid-fire 10-minute standup segment.
- The upfront removed any doubt that “Quantico” star Priyanka Chopra is the biggest breakout star to emerge from ABC in the past five years. The presentation opened with a “Quantico”-themed spoof video. Chopra was then showcased as a triple threat in an elaborate dance number set to, what else, Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” Troy Gentile of “The Goldbergs” and Miles Brown of “Black-ish” also joined in.
- ABC is counting on Kiefer Sutherland to save the country and help save the network. The “24” alum’s new drama “Designated Survivor” got the biggest plug of the presentation when Sutherland came out on stage to introduce a lengthy clip. As Sherwood noted, the show’s story of a cabinet member who winds up becoming President after a terrorist attack “may not be the strangest road to the White House this fall.”
- “When We Rise,” the gay rights miniseries from Dustin Lance Black, looks like the kind of sweeping historical epic that ABC used to do when Black was in elementary school. But ABC’s musical re-imagining of “Dirty Dancing” looks like it might need a little more rehearsal.
(Pictured: Priyanka Chopra)