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ABC Off on Another Manhunt for Fall

The Alphabet hasn’t fallen as much as the leaders this season, but it needs to broaden its demos

It hasn’t been a fairytale season for ABC, but things could be worse.

While this may be faint praise, the Alphabet should be encouraged that, despite double-digit declines for last year’s hottest newcomer (“Once Upon a Time”), as well as the net’s top comedy (“Modern Family”) and reality show (“Dancing With the Stars”), it has lost little competitive ground.

ABC likely will finish the season in fourth place among adults 18-49 — barring a friendly rounding that allows it to catch NBC — but it has closed the gap this season with leaders CBS and Fox, whose declines in regular-program averages are greater.

Ratings gains for Thursday drama “Scandal” and Friday entrepreneurial reality series “Shark Tank” have helped compensate for declines elsewhere, but the net still has plenty of work to do.

As it looks to fall, ABC will need to address some bugaboo timeslots, find ways to attract more men, and perhaps address life post-“Dancing With the Stars,” which has faded opposite NBC’s hot “The Voice.”

Instead of airing Monday cycles of “Dancing” in the fall and spring, sandwiched in the winter by “The Bachelor,” the Alphabet should consider a reversal, and go with the dating show opposite “The Voice,” and let “Dancing” run in the middle part of the season.

Such a move would also free up an hour on Tuesday in the fall usually reserved for the “Dancing” results show.

“Castle” continues to do well closing out Monday for ABC, so there’s no real reason to make a change there. The night is extremely female, but that’s not such a bad thing opposite football in the fall.

In the years since it lost the NFL, ABC has cultivated a strong female brand, and probably doesn’t want to veer too far from that. But it also needs to bring more men into the tent.

Only a handful of current ABC series — including “Modern Family” and “Shark Tank” — derive more than 35% of their adult audience from men.

Tuesday, where ABC is down 15% and now ranks fourth, needs an overhaul — and a promotion for “Shark Tank” is a good starting point. It could air at 9, between new dramas of interest to guys, perhaps “Marvel’s Shield” at 8 and something like lottery-winner tale “Lucky 7” at 10. And ABC might consider promoting the lineup during sibling net ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

“Shield” would be up against “NCIS” and “The Voice,” but ABC must make a bold move in this troubled time period.

Wednesday also provides an opportunity to attract men, even though the show that closes the night, “Nashville,” is 75% female. Assuming “Nashville” stays put, the net could look to add men on either side of “Modern Family” with the untitled Cullen brothers comedy starring James Caan or maybe “Family Tools,” which just bowed last week. The more femme-friendly “How to Live With Your Parents” is also still in the mix.

On Thursday, ABC has a chance to be the drama destination for women. “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” are strong from 9 to 11, but the night has lacked an opening act in recent years — and has seen some spectacular failures. Instead of reality shows or serialized dramas, the net could opt for a lighter drama with procedural elements, like the mother-daughter amateur-sleuth series “Murder in Manhattan.”

ABC has improved on Fridays this season thanks mostly to “Shark Tank,” but if that show moves from the night, the net could expand its comedy block by adding “The Neighbors” and either “Suburgatory” or a newcomer alongside “Last Man Standing” and “Malibu Country.”

If ABC has strong non-family comedies one option might be to rest “Nashville” in January and February and air these Wednesday at 10.

Sunday is a tough nut for ABC, especially with “Once Upon a Time” and “Revenge” sagging, but the best bet is bringing them back and trying to finish stronger.

Overall, ABC has plenty of pieces, but must fill holes on Tuesday and Thursday that have been dragging it down.

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