Part two of the upfront preview is the SCHEDULE-centric portion, examining the big-picture scheduling questions each network faces on each night in the final week before its upfront. I've always favored laying out the possibilities rather than creating an actual mock schedule; this seems to set up better to review the schedule next week without making it all about how my own prediction/recommendation did. But you can probably get some sense of which way I'm leaning.
Last week's Power Rankings were the SHOW-centric portion, in which I drilled more into the merits of individual shows: ABC True Power Rankings
Other Upfront Questions: NBC | Fox | ABC | CBS | CW
8:00 - Dancing with the Stars | The Bachelor | Dancing with the Stars
10:00 - Castle
Question: Has the Monday 10/9c hour once again become ripe for a newbie?
The more I think about ABC moving Castle, the more it makes sense. People always wanted ABC to send Castle elsewhere in its early seasons, and though it seemed possible, I was always a seller on the idea for three reasons. 1) DWTS and Castle made up one of those symbiotic, "good not great" pairings that networks love to leave together because the whole might be greater than the sum of the parts. 2) While DWTS was a great potential launch-pad back in the day, especially for a procedural, the network still had an alternative launch-pad with a similar audience: the Tuesday results show. And 3) Castle was still quite early in its run, and moving it might put a rare syndication gold mine opportunity for ABC Studios at risk.
Approaching the fall 2014 upfront, reason #1 is still there. And though the DWTS ship has been steadied, it's still not the huge lead-in opportunity that it once was. However, #2 is now gone and almost certainly not coming back. If ABC feels there's a potential old-skewing/procedural franchise in development, there's nowhere else on the schedule remotely as enticing as this slot. And #3 is not as much of a concern. With Castle entrenched in syndication and going into season seven, doing right by that show should not be as high on the priority list.
All of this is easy to say, but it still probably won't happen unless ABC has the right match with DWTS in development. If they do, go for it. I'd certainly prefer Monday 10/9c for something procedural-ish over a slot like Wednesday 10/9c, where it could get really ugly if ABC inevitably screws up the 9:30 half-hour again.
8:00 - Agents of SHIELD
9:00 - The Goldbergs
9:30 - Trophy Wife
10:00 - Lucky 7 | Primetime: What Would You Do? | Killer Women | Mind Games | Celebrity Wife Swap (exhale!)
Question: Does ABC have more compatible pieces around Agents of SHIELD?
We said in this space last year that ABC needed to revamp Tuesday, making the most of what seemed like tremendous upside with SHIELD. Three new hours was indeed pretty aggressive, but after potential SHIELD companion Big Thunder fell through, it was not a particularly cohesive lineup. Yet they got 90 highly renewable minutes out of it, which is far from the worst they could have done. While Agents of SHIELD may not appear to have the A18-49 ratings of a scheduling centerpiece, it's given the network something of a foothold with that always elusive young male set. If there's another show in that vein, it'd probably make for a logical pairing.
Of course, Marvel's Agent Carter is the most obvious companion, but ABC seems to be eyeing that one for the original Once Upon a Time in Wonderland plan - that is, filler during the hiatus of the established show. If the ABC execs have as much of a crush on Hayley Atwell as I did after Captain America, they may be tempted to put it in the fall, but they seem genuinely remorseful over what happened with Wonderland. So probably not. Maybe alien invasion drama The Whispers?
Ideally, I'd put this two-hour block at 9/8c with comedies at 8, but if ABC doesn't have the comedies for a four-hour setup, they might opt to keep SHIELD put and go with yet another doomed newbie (or maybe Castle) at 10/9c. There might also just not be a SHIELD companion, leading to a night like what we got last fall.
8:00 - The Middle
8:30 - Back in the Game | Suburgatory
9:00 - Modern Family
9:30 - Super Fun Night | Mixology
10:00 - Nashville
Question: Will Modern Family actually get a new family comedy lead-out in the fall?
Maddeningly, ABC has been hell-bent on not doing this over the years. I guess they think of Modern as much younger-skewing than a typical "traditional" family comedy, despite one like How to Live with Your Parents premiering rather nicely even though it was April and ABC didn't like the show that much. There's really no way to know whether this will be the year ABC wises up. Part of me thinks ABC might see something like the fairytale comedy Galavant as some huge swing for the fences that needs the most possible lead-in eyeballs. Not saying I'd do it (though I may watch the show). Just saying, once again: don't count out ABC continuing to out-think themselves here.
The 8:30 and 10:00 slots are also interesting. The Goldbergs seems like one of the few true toss-ups of upfront week; I could easily see it stay on Tuesday or go to Wednesday 8:30. As for 10:00: I'm really cooling on putting new dramas after comedy blocks, especially one like this in which the network continually screws up at 9:30. So I'd like to see Castle here, but it'll depend on whether there's a good newbie fit for Monday.
8:00 - Once Upon a Time in Wonderland | The Taste | Once Upon a Time in Wonderland
9:00 - Grey's Anatomy | The Taste | Grey's Anatomy
10:00 - Scandal | The Assets | Scandal
Question: Does How To Get Away With Murder have enough potential to warrant messing with the power hours?
I said last week that I would talk about this a lot more, but in retrospect I really said my piece in the Power Rankings, and breaking down what form the "messing with" takes isn't that interesting until we know what it is. Grey's Anatomy is in a truly sweet spot here. The shows you really want to "mess with" are either young shows that have enough cultural heat to hold up (Grey's circa 2006, The Big Bang Theory circa 2010), or shows being put out to pasture. Grey's would certainly be in "put out to pasture" mode if it were a half point weaker, but instead it's still quite the strong franchise.
Keeping this pair together would be a borderline no-brainer other years, including last year. Said it best in last year's Upfront Questions: "So unless there is some really compelling reason, I'd leave this one alone for another year and see what happens." And yet, it might be a legitimately interesting debate this year because How To Get Away With Murder exists. Not only has it seemingly risen to the top of ABC's drama development heap, but it's got that all-important Shonda Rhimes name attached. And if not on Thursday, where would the show have anywhere near that chance of success? Shonda's already bombed on Wednesday at 10/9c with Off the Map a few years ago.
Because of that, I'm inclined to think a big Thursday shake-up is a very real possibility. If Seth MacFarlane had enough clout to get Animation Domination torn apart in favor of Cosmos, this could really happen too. But it's enough of an awkward situation for Grey's that the best prediction may be the power hours staying put. They've gotta be really in love with How To Get Away for it to happen.
Why has ABC been so weak at 8/7c over the years? A major part of it is ABC incompetence, to be sure. But one of the fringe benefits of Grey's Anatomy is its lack of lead-in dependence. ABC just doesn't have that much incentive to put really high-priority stuff in the hour, since Grey's will be OK regardless (and won't benefit a ton from a success). It's why I hated the possibility of SHIELD here last year and why I would hate something like Shark Tank this year. If the power hours stay put, they may well phone it in again rather than overdo it with three Shonda shows on one night.
8:00 - Last Man Standing
8:30 - The Neighbors
9:00 - Shark Tank
10:00 - 20/20
Question: Is there a better way to make use of Shark Tank?
As stated last week: probably not on another night. Unless there's a two-hour chunk of real estate ABC can carve out for Tank to lead into a new reality series on a weeknight (Tuesday is probably the only remote possibility), there's no way it could possibly benefit a weeknight as much as its departure hurts Friday.
How about within the framework of this winning Friday lineup? Much like with the Thursday lineup, it would require some serious re-jiggering. The most obvious solution is to can the Friday comedy hour, put Tank at 8/7c and a new reality series at 9/8c. If they really don't want to hurt Shark Tank by moving it to a lower-viewed hour, they could keep the comedy hour but put it on hiatus in the spring, moving 20/20 to 8/7c and the newbie at 10/9c. (This seems drastic, but it would probably still be more justifiable than the last block for which they made that move: Women's Murder Club and Men in Trees in fall 2007.)
I don't really expect any of this to happen, at least not this year. Last Man Standing repeats well, so it doesn't fall that neatly into the "put on hiatus" model. And with at least three multi-camera comedies in development supposedly looking strong, it'd be pretty sad if they once again emerged without a companion for that show.
7:00 - America's Funniest Home Videos
8:00 - Once Upon a Time
9:00 - Revenge | Resurrection
10:00 - Betrayal | Revenge
Question: Can ABC do any better than what they've already got?
Resurrection may not be a terribly long-term option for ABC, but it should get another chance in the fall, minimizing its time off the air. Revenge is not really pulling the kind of ratings you want on a fall schedule, but it's on the precipice of the seemingly magic 88 episodes, and this is not a good place to launch a new show. Therefore, I don't see a good reason why this night would be anything other than the four-hour lineup from the spring.
The only conceivable way to aim higher would be moving Grey's Anatomy or something. If a Grey's move does happen, Sunday might be better than incompatible, SHIELD-centric Tuesday, but... meh.