5 Takeaways From ABC’s Upfront

Here are the five biggest takeaways from ABC’s upfront presentation on Tuesday. 

Roseanne Barr is the face of ABC.

It didn’t take long for ABC to brag about “Roseanne.” Star Roseanne Barr appeared at the end of a prerecorded comedy video at the top of the show, then walked onstage to introduce Disney-ABC Television Group chairman Ben Sherwood as “the guy responsible for most of my tweets.” Barr drew strong applause as she stepped onstage — appropriate to her rediscovered star power.

As Sherwood boasted, “Roseanne” was this season’s highest-rated television program in the 18-49 demo — the first time in 24 years that ABC has had the No. 1 show. Sherwood and Barr hugged, and a few minutes later, ABC News teased a new marketing campaign featuring the voice of another “Roseanne” star, John Goodman.

“The premiere ratings even took us by surprise” said ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey, who claimed that 1 in 10 Americans has seen the “Roseanne” revival premiere. Although numbers for the comedy declined significantly since the premiere, they have leveled off — holding steady for two straight weeks with a 2.6 live plus same day demo rating. If “Roseanne” continues to draw similar ratings next year, it will prove that ABC’s move to revive the show, much derided after Barr made an awkward appearance at last year’s upfront, was savvy.

Roseanne is an imperfect face of ABC.

With numbers rare to broadcast, ABC can’t be expected to not make “Roseanne” its hood ornament. But the content surrounding “Roseanne” at the upfront laid bare what an odd fit the show is for that role. ABC spent years overtly linking its brand to inclusion with shows like “Modern Family,” “Black-ish,” “Speechless,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” “Roseanne” over-indexes in Midwestern states where Donald Trump performed well in 2017 and broadcast TV has struggled to connect with mass audiences. The schedule ABC touted at upfronts was short on similarly designed programs. The only new series it appears to have positioned to play well with “Roseanne” is Nathan Fillion cop drama “The Rookie.”

Then there’s her politics. Just minutes after Barr took the stage, Freeform presented. When footage of Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg appeared in a sizzle reel for the Disney-owned cable channel, it served as a reminder that the week that “Roseanne” premiered, Barr took to Twitter to falsely accuse him of giving a Nazi salute at a rally against gun violence. Hitching the ABC brand to a star who mongers debunked conspiracy theories remains a risky proposition.

Michael Strahan is the face of multiple networks.

Ad buyers gathered at Lincoln Center were treated to day two of the Michael Strahan Upfront Tour. Just a day earlier, Strahan had appeared alongside Fox Sports colleagues Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, and Howie Long at Fox’s upfront presentation. On Tuesday, he joined his ABC News colleagues on stage.

Flanked on one side by fellow “Good Morning America” hosts Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos and on the other by David Muir and Amy Robach, Strahan was literally at the center of the ABC News pitch. His ubiquity this week underscored his dramatic rise as a broadcaster since retiring from football in 2008. This fall he will serve as host of Fox’s “Thursday Night Football” pregame show, an analyst on “Fox NFL Sunday,” and a host on Good Morning America” — after appearing this summer on ABC as host of “The $100,000 Pyramid.”

TGIF is kind of back, maybe.

With the move of “Speechless” and “Fresh Off the Boat” to Friday nights, Dungey touted the return of TGIF, the 90’s Friday-night comedy brand that included shows such as “Full House” and “Family Matters.” But the rollout seemed tepid, with no “TGIF” graphic popping up on the massive screens onstage. The lack of fanfare hinted that the scheduling move for the two shows to the 8 p.m. Friday hour may have been a late-game decision, or at least that the revival of the TGIF moniker — which Dungey used earlier in the day on a conference call with reporters — was.

ABC’s larger comedy brand, long the network strength, now appears to be a mixed bag. Dungey was qestioned this morning about the future of “Modern Family,” which co-creator Steve Levitan has indicated could end with its next season. Ant it appears to be a missed opportunity that ABC failed to develop a multi-camera comedy to pair with “Roseanne” on Tuesdays next season.

Kenya Barris is the new Shonda Rhimes.

For years, Shonda Rhimes was the most important creative force at ABC. Though the Thursday-night TGIT block of Rhimes-produced shows remains a feature of the network schedule, the only mention of Rhimes, who departed ABC Studios last year for an overall deal at Netflix, was Jimmy Kimmel’s joke about her exit. “Shonda is an amazing talent and person who changed the face of this network,” Kimmel said. “Now that she’s leaving for Netflix, I can honestly say on behalf of everyone here at ABC who have worked with her for so long, we hope she rots in hell.”

Still at ABC is “Black-ish” creator Barris, whose profile continues to grow. Freeform’s Kary Burke praised Barris as she touted the series order for his new show “Besties.” Dungey did the same when praising “Black-ish.” An appearance by Yara Shahidi, star of Barris’ “Grownish,” was the highlight of Freeform’s portion of the upfront. Barris was far and away the most prominent creator of the upfront, a position long held by Rhimes.

But it remains unclear what Barris’ future at ABC is. After the broadcaster shelved a topical episode of “Black-ish” this season, Barris explored leaving his ABC Studios deal to join Rhimes at Netflix. But his interest in the streaming service is complicated by the fact that he has two years remaining on his current contract. Speaking to reporter this morning, Dungey was upbeat about the company’s relationship with Barris, saying that the two recently discussed new business. But Barris has remained silent since the “Black-ish” episode was pulled in February.

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