First impressions of the fall lineups. Grades are subject to revision – TV works on a curve – at the close of the upfront festivities.
Well, well, that was a pleasure — or at least, it was over in a little more than an hour, so give ABC points for style.
ABC’s upfront was an especially slick presentation, but a tale of two genres. With a few exceptions, the dramas looked promising, or at least worthy of a look. Moreover, most of the fall contenders have been given logical timeslots where they have a better chance to succeed than, say, similarly themed counterparts on NBC. (ABC and NBC were clearly smoking the same herbs this year, with each visiting fairy tales and the 1960s. Call it “convergent evolution.”)
By contrast, with one notable exception — the breezy Tim Allen revival “Last Man Standing” — the sitcoms appeared mediocre at best, and in some instances better suited to ABC Entertainment Group Prez Paul Lee’s last hangout over at ABC Family.
On the plus side, two of ABC’s higher-profile newcomers, the period drama “Pan Am” and revival “Charlie’s Angels,” both are scheduled in places where they ought to have a shot at getting sampled. In addition, the fairy-tales-come-true fantasy “Once Upon a Time” makes a lot of sense at 8 p.m. Sunday, with “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” likely to improve the network’s lot on Fridays.
The sitcoms, by contrast, look like “Modern Family” and the Seven Dwarfs. Essentially a “Bosom Buddies” redo called “Work It?” The disposable-looking “Man Up!,” and conceptually tired “Suburgatory?” While I understand the impulse to showcase more comedy, it’s not a stretch to suspect ABC might be forced to retrench relatively soon if some of these half-hours flop.
The dramas, at least, all seem designed to tap into the audience ABC has successfully reached in the past with the gone-but-not-forgotten “Lost,” and increasingly forgettable but not-yet-gone “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Desperate Housewives.” And while shows like “Good Christian Belles” and the soap “Revenge” might not work, they do feel like “quintessential ABC,” as Disney Media Networks co-chair Anne Sweeney put it. (The inevitable outrage over “Belles” among easily riled Christian advocacy groups, even with the title change from the original “Bitches,” should also help promote it.)
In terms of comedy, the network’s highlight yet again fell to latenight host Jimmy Kimmel, whose annual upfront routines — with nary a kind word for anybody, including his own network — have become a kind of warped tradition. He spoke of NBC selling ads on Groupon, CBS’ older audience dying off in front of the TV, Fox ripping itself off with “X Factor,” and ABC canceling everything the network introduced last fall. But hey, at least Lee can blame that on Steve McPherson.
In his close, Lee described ABC’s schedule as “stability and ambition.” There’s certainly welcome ambition in some of the dramas, and much of the stability on nights like Monday and Thursday should put the network in a better position than NBC.
As for the instability, I suspect that will come when the half-hours begin to falter, if nothing else providing Kimmel plenty of fodder for next year’s act.
Preliminary grade: B-