ABC is going to debut at least 13 new series at some point in the 2011-12 TV season, easily the most of the three networks to announce schedules so far during upfront week. You can look at it one of two ways. ABC entertainment president Paul Lee, announcing his own schedule with his own developed shows for the first time in his tenure at the network, tried to sell it as a lesson he learned from his cable days at ABC Family, where it was important to have new product to debut year-round, rather than just in the fall the way the broadcast networks used to do business.
Or you could look at it as the result of ABC having one flagship reality show ("Dancing with the Stars"), one relatively young hit ("Modern Family") a few aging ones ("Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives") and a whole lot of holes, and/or shows that survive largely because they follow one of the few hits.
The answer is probably somewhere between those two theories. Yes, ABC very badly needs to replenish itself with new hits - and Lee, like his counterparts at NBC and FOX, is particularly keen on expanding his sitcom presence - but there's also value to having new shows debuting at various points throughout the year, even if it's harder for the networks to pull off than it sounds. (NBC under Ben Silverman talked about this constantly, and it never quite worked.)
It's a ton of new product to promote - Lee even said he hopes to stagger the fall premieres a bit so they're trying to promote seven new shows in the same week - and yet a schedule that didn't have room for "Cougar Town" until mid-season. We'll see if they can pull it off - and if Lee's programming choices are as smart for the big network as they largely were for ABC Family.
Fienberg has the full schedule, and I have thoughts on it, night-by-night, along with some comments from Lee:
MONDAY: If it ain't broke, leave "Dancing with the Stars" and "Castle" alone. I assume one of the mid-season dramas will air in the 10 o'clock timeslot while "The Bachelor" is airing between the fall and spring "Dancing" seasons.
TUESDAY: Like NBC, ABC is trying to launch two new comedies from scratch on a night away from where the network has developed a comedy reputation. "Last Man Standing" does have former ABC star Tim Allen, of course (and was created by Jack Burditt from "30 Rock"), and both it and "Man Up" have similar themes (and names), so maybe they can find a counterprogrammed audience against "Glee," "NCIS" and "Biggest Loser." "Dancing" and "Body of Proof" stay put at 9 and 10.
"Cougar Town," exiled from both Wednesday nights and the fall schedule, will wind up here at mid-season, airing at 9 (with "Apartment 23" at 9:30) while "Dancing" is on its mid-year break. On the one hand, sooner or later ABC was going to have to see if "Cougar Town" could survive away from "Modern Family" (and see if another comedy could hold more of the "MF" audience), and this is the scheduling approach ABC took with "Scrubs" a few years back. Of course, that season of "Scrubs" only had 13 episodes, where Lee says "Cougar Town" has a full 22-episode order, and "Scrubs" was clearly on its last legs and being used as scheduling filler, where "Cougar Town" is... well, we don't know yet, but it's not old. Lee said there was a chance he might use whatever episodes are left when "Dancing" comes back as part of a bloc of summer originals, but it also sounded like he was just spitballing, and that nobody quite knows what to do with the show now that "Happy Endings" is the new Wednesday hotshot. And speaking of which...
WEDNESDAY: "The Middle" is still a solid performer at 8, and ABC will see if "Suburgatory" (from "Parks and Rec" writer Emily Kapnek) is a more natural fit than "Better With You" wound up being. "Happy Endings," which did surprisingly not-terribly at 10 (and which grew on me as the season went along) gets the promising post-"Modern Family" timeslot, and ABC starts from scratch at 10 yet again with the Hamptons-set soap "Revenge," with Emily Van Camp. It's a timeslot that's been trouble for ABC for a while. ("The Whole Truth" and "Off the Map" both struggled mightily there this season.)
THURSDAY: The "Grey's" and "Private Practice" combo remains in place, and seems like it will until one or both shows goes away. The only show to ever do much business airing before "Grey's" was "Ugly Betty," so ABC will try its high-profile "Charlie's Angels" remake (which Lee referred to as "pure candy") with Minka Kelly there.
FRIDAY: Where NBC and FOX have been pushing more scripted shows onto this night, ABC is sticking with reality and news, relocating the aging "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" to 8, followed by "Shark Tank" and "20/20." ABC has enough trouble launching dramas as it is without trying them on this tough night, which is why Lee held "Body of Proof" for another night at mid-season when the original plan was to premiere it here.
SATURDAY: College football in fall, repeats and movies in spring. Same old, same old.
SUNDAY: With "Makeover" bumped and "Brothers & Sisters" canceled, some decent real estate opens on either side of "Housewives," with another show about fairy tales in modern age (after NBC's "Grimm") in "Once Upon a Time" and another show set in the "Mad Men" era (after NBC's "The Playboy Club") in the Christina Ricci-starrer "Pan Am."
That is a whole lot of product even before we get to Ashley Judd in "Missing," the Darren Star-produced soap "Good Christian Belles" and all the other mid-season shows. The last time ABC produced several notable hits in the same season (the season when "Lost," "Grey's" and "Housewives" premiered), it came from focusing almost all of its promotional resources on those shows. Staggering the premieres throughout the season might help a little, but at some point Lee might have to decide which one of his 13 new children he loves most and which will have to fend for themselves.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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