Friday, March 30, 2007

Super TV Preview: ABC

(Over the next few days, SDD will be offering up its thoughts on what the networks may do with their lineups next fall as they enter the time period when they consider what to cancel and what to pick up. This is only based on unverified gossip and a little guesswork based on what networks have done in the past. We'll go alphabetically by network, and if you want to see what we predicted for ABC last year, go here. Don't consider any of this official news. It's just our predictions.)

by Todd and Jon

ABC is like a weird blend of the strengths and problems of all of the other networks. It seems ascendant, even though most of its big shows are down this year (sometimes significantly). But it also seems poised on the precipice of disaster more often than not. Like CBS, ABC is reliant on one type of show (procedurals for CBS, soaps for ABC), but that one type of show plays well to its audience. Like NBC and The CW, ABC has a lot of holes, but they have fewer holes than either of those other networks. And like Fox, ABC does much better when it has its reality hit (Idol for Fox, Dancing with the Stars for ABC) around to raise all of its boats.

The network did renew 14 shows early, including one show thought to be on the bubble (Men in Trees). Trees should be back in the fall, and it looks as though the show will have a larger number of episodes to air, as the show was pulled to make way for October Road and then Notes from the Underbelly. The other 13 were Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty, Brothers & Sisters, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Boston Legal, which should all be back in the fall; Lost, which should return in January; Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor, which will air in the early fall and spring (though I really have no idea on Bachelor); Supernanny, Wife Swap and America's Funniest Home Videos, which will likely be used to plug holes; and Jimmy Kimmel Live, which airs in late night.

That doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for shows on the bubble. For a while, it looked like Knights of Prosperity, retooled around Ray Romano, might make the schedule, but those hopes seem dim now. According to Jim and George Lopez have probably outlived their usefulness (though I wouldn't be surprised by a midseason order for one of the two, especially if Notes bombs). What About Brian is a possibility (oddly), but ABC doesn't feel the need to suck up to J.J. Abrams anymore. And October Road will probably be back, unless it completely tanked in its first showing without a new Grey's as a leadin. Pretty much everything else outright tanked, including Six Degrees and The Nine, thought to be two sure things last fall (oddly, the three ABC pilots that succeeded most were all shows the network seemingly had little faith in at first). We'll presume that Notes will bomb, but if it does well in its three weeks after Grey's, don't be surprised if it comes back -- ABC is hungry for a half-hour comedy hit, and this fits well with its target audience.

What is that target audience, exactly?

If it wasn't obvious, ABC is after women. Preferably young women, but it's just as happy with older women. And if you look at the slate of pilots in development, that much holds true. Really, the only two significant shows on ABC's schedule that aren't female-centric are Lost, which is an anomaly that may be in danger of cancellation if it can't shore up its flagging ratings next season, and Boston Legal, which does really well with rich people, whom advertisers love (for obvious reasons).

The most important thing ABC did this fall was add shows to complement the four shows it launched in the 2004-05 season (Housewives, Grey's, Lost and Legal) and Dancing with the Stars. It may seem like the most important thing the network did was to move Grey's to Thursday, and that was certainly a big benefit, but the network will be happier in the long run to have shows like Betty and Brothers. It certainly looks more stable than last spring, when it canceled everything but What About Brian (and that show's renewal seemed inexplicable). If Notes takes off, something like 50% of the new series for this season will have been renewed.

Let's run down the network night by night before making predictions.

Sunday: Home Videos is a solid performer in the 7 p.m. hour, while Extreme Makeover: Home Edition has flagged a bit at 8. Still, the show is big enough and flows well enough with Housewives that it will probably stay there. Desperate Housewives has flagged a bit as well, but it was up to season one levels in the fall before mysteriously losing those viewers, despite a creative uptick. Still, nothing juicy storylines can't fix. Brothers & Sisters doesn't hold as much of the audience of Housewives as Grey's did, but it does well enough, especially with upscale (read: rich) households.

Monday: Dancing with the Stars has helped out here, but this was an outright disaster for much of the year, especially when The Bachelor wasn't here to do some heavy lifting. Brian never really grew its audience, and the female-friendly reality shows are more cost-effective hole pluggers.

Tuesday: Again, Dancing has helped here (especially in the fall), but ABC's failure to use that show to launch any hit comedies or game shows has left Boston Legal pretty much stranded, even though it holds its own.

Wednesday: This used to be a solid night for ABC, until the viewers that left Lost last spring due to a combination of repeat anxiety and American Idol interest didn't really come back in the fall. A move to 10 essentially chased away all of the family viewers, and the show is in dire straits right now (even though it still pulls in around 12 million viewers per week). It hasn't helped that more dud comedies have led into the show (even the critically respected Knights) and that The Nine and Day Break both failed so phenomenally.

Thursday: Amazingly enough, ABC's wacky gambit to win on Thursdays with Grey's has mostly paid off, as this is the night keeping the rest of the schedule afloat when Dancing isn't around. Betty has been solid (though it and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader compete for so much of the same audience that one will have to blink soon), Grey's has been one of the two biggest game-changers on TV (only Idol surpasses it -- and that's on the down slope while Grey's continues to go up), and Men in Trees and October Road have stanched the Six Degrees bleeding in the 10 p.m. hour.

Friday: After Men in Trees left this night, I had no idea what was on anymore. I think Videos, followed by Grey's repeats, followed by 20/20? I know Six Degrees came back at some point, and. . .like on every network but CBS, this night is a mess for ABC.

Saturday: ABC, the one network making noise about doing original programming on this night, aired college football in the fall, then movies in the winter and spring. Football did pretty well, so it will probably return. This might be a good night for ABC to develop a game show or one of the Oprah reality shows it has ordered up.

Now, let's look at the fall might look like.

7 p.m.: America's Funniest Home Videos
8 p.m.: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
9 p.m.: Desperate Housewives
10 p.m.: Women's Murder Club (new series)

Jon really believes that ABC will set up a comedy bloc on this night in the 8 p.m. hour (consisting of Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office, featuring SDD favorite Jayma Mays, and The Thick of It, from SDD favorite Mitchell Hurwitz), but I think EM:HE is too valuable to them as a lead-in to Housewives. But his idea was intriguing enough that I offered it for your perusal. Otherwise, the same-old, same-old, until 10 p.m., where ABC may launch its latest shot at having a big, procedural hit.

8 p.m. -- Dancing with the Stars
9:30 p.m. -- Family of the Year (new series)
10 p.m. -- Men in Trees (new night)

Dancing has done quite well here in its early showings, so it will probably stay here to knock the tar out of the other networks (weirdly, it affected CBS' young-skewing comedies more than it did NBC's Deal or No Deal, thought to be pitched at a similar audience -- but more on that tomorrow). ABC, as mentioned, is desperate for a comedy hit, and the buzzwords are female-centric and family-centric (if gossip can be believed). Family of the Year will have a recognizable cast and a funny hook, plus it won't skew as lower-class as the more Roseanne-like The Middle (brief note: How sad is it that the networks so want the richer viewers that a show like Roseanne would struggle to get on the air today?). Finally, I will get Men in Trees in the old Northern Exposure slot if it kills me. The show was probably always too light to go after Grey's, and it did well out of Dancing last fall (in one showing, albeit). There's room for the show to grow, though too much of its prospective audience may be watching CSI: Miami.

8 p.m. -- Dancing with the Stars (Results Show)
9 p.m. -- Brothers & Sisters (new night and time)
10 p.m. -- Boston Legal

This is the night every predictor has predicted (though, admittedly, every predictor had Grey's going to Mondays last year and look how that turned out), simply because these three shows all attract the same upscale demographics and flow well with each other. Both B&S and Legal have room to grow, and Dancing would make a killer lead-in for the two.

8 p.m. -- October Road (new night and time)
9 p.m. -- Private Practice (Grey's Anatomy spinoff) (new series)
10 p.m. -- Dirty Sexy Money (new series)

And so ABC goes back to the drawing board on a night it looked like they might dominate for years to come. Jon, again, thinks that ABC will go with a comedy bloc at 8 p.m. (bringing back George Lopez and following it with American Family), and I think that idea makes more sense than the Sunday night bloc, but I think October Road may make the move here just to have one returning series (other than Lopez) on the night. Plus, it really feels like an 8 p.m. show. There's some talk about the Mr. and Mrs. Smith series filling that time slot, but I think that may end up moving to midseason to shore up a night in trouble with Lost (since it should get a big pilot sampling), and Jon thinks it will be a debacle that doesn't even make the air. The one thing pretty much everyone agrees on is that the Grey's spinoff will hold down this night, and it should get a big sampling -- at least at first. Quality will determine if that sampling holds (well, quality and whether the show is substantially different from Grey's). Dirty Sexy Money, another wacky soap, though reportedly one with a great script (and look at the cast!), closes out the night.

8 p.m.: Ugly Betty
9 p.m.: Grey's Anatomy
10 p.m.: Football Wives (new series)

The first two hours don't need fixing, and Football Wives following Grey's is pretty much conventional wisdom at this point (which probably means it will end up stranded on Fridays or something).

8 p.m.: The Middle (new series)
8:30 p.m.: Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office (new series)
9 p.m.: All Fall Down (new series)
10 p.m.: 20/20

Jon's got October Road and Men in Trees filling up those slots, which, honestly, makes more sense than my schedule (especially Trees, which always did very well on this night), but ABC's not strong enough to build big nights everywhere, so here's a night full of shows that will likely fail. I'll take a flyer on All Fall Down based on Rina Mimoun (late of Everwood), though I really think ABC will plug a mystery series in there, and I'll also go with the half-resurrection of TGIF. 20/20 stays put.

8 p.m.: College Football

Because what else?

I expect ABC to pick up a handful of shows for midseason, including Mr. and Mrs. Smith. I would bet on one of either Marlowe or Suspects making it and probably Pushing Daisies as the token critical acclaim show. Bedrooms & Boardrooms, sort of a male Grey's Anatomy in the world of CEOs, probably has a shot as well, as do a host of comedy pilots, including The Thick of It and Christina Applegate vehicle Sam I Am.

But, honestly, ABC's development is just so good that they could really throw just about any new show on the schedule and have a halfway decent shot. But they'd best tread carefully -- this is the year that will show us if ABC is the next CBS, building an iron-clad schedule that cannot be picked apart, or a flash in the pan.

Tomorrow: CBS just wants to be loved. After it gets done humiliating all of the other networks.


Daniel said...

I now cannot wait for THE THICK OF IT. Will it be a fall series or a midseason?

Todd VanDerWerff said...

I'm betting on midseason, if it gets a pickup at all. The buzz surrounding it isn't the best, even though the cast is great (Oliver Platt! Michael McKean!) and the director is great too (Christopher Guest!).

Daniel said...

Thank you for ruining my day. We should call this blog THE DAY RUINER. Cuz that's what you are, day ruiner.