ABC is countering comedy blocks planned next season by Fox and NBC with new laffers of its own. And the Alphabet hopes to goose its Sunday lineup by shifting “Revenge” to fill the void left by the departure of “Desperate Housewives.”
All four of the new half-hours the Alphabet ordered have been slotted on the schedule. ABC Entertainment topper Paul Lee pledged to keep the net’s momentum going from a season where he launched at least three new viable series but still managed to finish the season a distant third to CBS and Fox among viewers 18-49.
“We need to solidify our success, we need to build for the future, and we’ve got some great shows to do that with,” said Lee in a conference call Tuesday with reporters. He echoed the building theme during his pitch to media buyers and journos Tuesday afternoon at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.
During the presentation, Disney-ABC TV Group topper Anne Sweeney touted ABC’s success in using its series to reach viewers on multiple platforms.
“Our bachelors may not stay engaged but our audience does,” she joked, referencing the network’s long-running reality series “The Bachelor.”
ABC latenight host Jimmy Kimmel was treated to a star-studded pretaped vignette saluting his 10 years with “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” with appearances from Tom Cruise, Matt Damon, John Krasinski and Cameron Diaz. Then Kimmel took to the stage for an annual standup routine that has become a fixture of the ABC upfront. With lacerating wit, Kimmel proceeded to jab not only at his own network but its rivals and the advertisers in the audience.
“It’s an upfront so I’m going to be upfront with you: We don’t know what we’re doing,” he said of the network, citing some of its more ill-advised recent programming choices like this season’s much-mocked cross-dressing comedy “Work It.”
Kimmel mocked ABC for changing the title of the drama once known as “Good Christian Bitches” to “GCB,” “which instead sounded like a date-rape drug.”
He also took a shot at the newly hired judges on Fox’s “The X Factor. ”
“No one knows talent like Britney Spears and Demi Lovato,” he cracked. “If you have to pay Britney Spears $15 million dollars, how much do you have to pay someone who could actually sing?”
Lee got off a few good lines as well during the presentation. Referring to the long run of “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” he noted the series’ existence for “23 years, or as I like to think of it, 11 presidents of entertainment.”
Among its major moves for 2012-13, the Alphabet plans to pair new comedies “How To Live With Your Parents (For the Rest Of Your Life)” and “Family Tools” on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in January. In addition, “Happy Endings” and “Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23” will already be in place at 9 p.m. beginning in September.
On Monday, Fox disclosed that “New Girl” would anchor a four-comedy block of its own on Tuesday. NBC also has new comedies lined up on that night from 9-10 p.m.
In addition, NBC will get some competition Fridays, where it just announced the pairing of “Community” and “Whitney,” from 8 to 9 p.m., from the duo of “Last Man Standing,” which is moving from Tuesday to kick off a new night followed by new Reba McEntire comedy “Malibu Country” at 8:30 p.m. beginning in November.
While ABC isn’t reintroducing the iconic “TGIF” brand that adorned Friday primetime in the 1980s and ’90s, Lee said it has been a priority since he started at the network last year to mine the night’s heritage.
“I think it’s time for Friday night to be a destination night for all-family entertainment,” he said.
Long-running ABC unscripted franchise “Dancing With the Stars” will stay in place on Monday and Tuesday in the fall. “Castle” will also remain on Monday while “Private Practice” will unspool its final 13 episodes in the Tuesday 10 p.m. berth.
ABC is hoping to reverse “Dancing’s” declining ratings with an all-star edition, bringing back stars from previous seasons for the 14th installment. The results show is also moving back an hour to Tuesday 8 p.m.
“Practice” will be one of three Shonda Rhimes dramas on in the fall, with “Grey’s Anatomy” back at 9 p.m. on Thursday, following by another of her hours, “Scandal.” “Last Resort,” a high-octane drama starring Andre Braugher, will kick off that night in the same time slot where “Charlie’s Angels” got roughed up last fall.
ABC’s powerhouse Wednesday comedy lineup will stay the same for the first 90 minutes, but the coveted post-“Modern Family” time slot will go to new comedy “Neighbors,” followed by new drama “Nashville,” starring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere.
Another new drama, “666 Park Avenue,” will come in Sunday at 10 p.m. following returning rookie hits “Once Upon A Time” and “Revenge.”
While ABC is waiting to launch its comedy attacks months after NBC and Fox do the same, “Shark Tank” will warm the Friday 8 p.m. hour until it moves up an hour in November to make way for the new comedies. The “Dancing” results show will do same until January on Tuesday.
When “Tank” moves, that will bump “Primetime: What Would You Do?” from the schedule, while “20/20” will stay at 10 p.m.
Still waiting for midseason berths are “Body of Proof,” “Wife Swap” and new dramas “Red Widow” and “Zero Hour.” “Mistresses,” a sudser adapted from a BBC hit, is targeted to bow in May 2013.
With three comedy blocks in place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, ABC is reflecting a broadcaster-wide trend to move aggressively into half-hours, which fetch top dollar in syndication and are a hot genre right now, as ABC’s own “Modern Family” and “Suburgatory” can attest.
But by postponing the comedy push until later in the season, ABC may be hoping they’ll have a better chance avoiding the crush of fall launches – a strategy that likely helped “Once Upon a Time” gain traction this season.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that by the time ABC is ready to make its comedy move in November or January, Fox or NBC will have already retreated from their own laffers and replaced them with drama or unscripted programming. It’s also possible that ABC could tweak its own plans given that second thoughts on skedding moves after upfronts week are not unprecedented for any net.
For all the comedy combat on the schedule, no one seems to be spoiling for a fight with CBS: Its longtime powerhouse laffer lineup Monday has yet to be contested, and neither Fox or ABC seems willing to battle the Eye on Thursday where they are expected to shift to a four-comedy block anchored by “The Big Bang Theory.”
Lee also said he intends to develop more programming outside the traditional development cycle in the next few months because of the advantages it can provide for casting and staffing with less competition, but didn’t identify any particular projects he’s looking to activate.
With “The Avengers” tearing up the box office, Lee did indicate that developing TV adaptations of properties from Disney sibling Marvel remains a priority, though a project in the works featuring superhero AKA Jessica Jones is not moving forward. However, ABC Studios could still elect to develop a series based on the Hulk for next season, though Lee said such a project could also end up on a different network given the studio’s intent to produce series for outside networks as well as Disney nets. Still other Marvel properties could end up on TV, noted Lee, but he wouldn’t specify which ones.
Lee also became the latest broadcast exec to knock Dish Network for the commercial-stripping functionality on its multi-room DVRs, dubbed Auto Hop. “We’re not supportive of anything that doesn’t support our advertisers.” He added that network execs were looking into the details of the technology.
8:00 p.m. “Dancing with the Stars”
10:00 p.m. “Castle”
8:00 p.m. “The Bachelor”
10:00 p.m. “Castle”
8:00 p.m. “Dancing with the Stars the Results Show”
9:00 p.m. “Happy Endings”
9:30 p.m. “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23”
10:00 p.m. “Private Practice”
8:00 p.m. “How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)”
8:30 p.m. “The Family Tools”
8:00 p.m. “The Middle”
8:30 p.m. “Suburgatory”
9:00 p.m. “Modern Family”
9:30 p.m. “The Neighbors”
10:00 p.m. “Nashville”
8:00 p.m. “Last Resort”
9:00 p.m. “Grey’s Anatomy”
10:00 p.m. “Scandal”
8:00 p.m. “Shark Tank”
9:00 p.m. “Primetime: What Would You Do?”
10:00 p.m. “20/20”
8:00 p.m. “Last Man Standing”
8:30 p.m. “Malibu Country”
9:00 p.m. “Shark Tank”
10:00 p.m. “Primetime: What Would You Do?”
8:00 p.m. “Saturday Night College Football”
7:00 p.m. “America’s Funniest Home Videos”
8:00 p.m. “Once Upon a Time”
9:00 p.m. “Revenge”
10:00 p.m. “666 Park Avenue”