Wednesday, May 6, 2015

2015 Upfront Questions, ABC

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. This post tries to lay out the reasonable possibilities rather than spending a lot of time committing to one, but I am including "Spot's Answer" in each section to try to be a little clearer about where I'm leaning. They're not really "official predictions" (more like a hybrid of predictions/recommendations) but you can consider them that way if you want.

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


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - Dancing with the Stars | The Bachelor | Dancing with the Stars
10:00 - Castle

Question: Is Castle just too weak (and maybe Dancing with the Stars too strong) for this pairing to survive yet again?

In last week's Power Rankings, I said Castle was performing dangerously close to bubble show levels. After another downtick to 1.3, I was willing to revise that to "it's literally at bubble show levels," though it got the tenth back this week. It seems safe for renewal since Nathan Fillion has re-signed, but it should be very much on notice as far as keeping the favorable timeslot it has occupied since spring 2009.

Spot's Answer: This is still probably gonna depend on development. But Castle is beaten down enough now that it should lose out to an older-skewing newbie that ABC likes enough to put on in the fall. There are certainly some combos of fall drama pickups that could make continuing with Castle in this slot the "correct" move, but this year I'll be pissed if there's a Forever type of show that misses out on the slot.


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - Selfie | Fresh Off the Boat | Dancing with the Stars
8:30 - Manhattan Love Story | Repeat After Me | Dancing with the Stars
9:00 - Agents of SHIELD | Agent Carter
10:00 - Forever

Question: Will ABC put more or less responsibility on Agents of SHIELD?

Why would ABC de-prioritize the Marvel series? Much like on Fox, when you step back and look at the ABC landscape, you realize that there is surprisingly little room for new comedies in development. It's even more unfortunate here than on Fox, since ABC's comedy department has been one of the biggest success stories on TV over the last year. If ABC just keeps their three weeknight comedy hours intact, that means either holding Fresh Off the Boat for midseason (ugh) or having a mere one new comedy across Tuesday and Wednesday (plus a potential second on Friday).

With four stalwarts on Wednesday and Fresh Off the Boat a decent Tuesday option, the network is actually closer than people realize to having the inventory to add yet another Tuesday comedy hour and shove SHIELD to 10/9c. That opens up a lot of possibilities; they can have three newbies on those nights, and they could even do something like move Fresh Off the Boat to Wednesday and try to launch it into the stratosphere as they did with The Goldbergs.

To get the "more responsibility" half out of the way quickly: giving SHIELD more responsibility means pairing it with the SHIELD spin-off on the fall schedule (or some other show expected to mesh with the SHIELD male audience) There's also the "neutral responsibility" possibility in which ABC reprises this year's schedule, pairing SHIELD with a new drama that is not compatible like Forever. But who would want that?!

Spot's Answer: I actually wouldn't mind the expansion, but it requires very good development. And it's sooo not happening if ABC is only gonna order two or three newbies to series. That's why I tend to lean toward the "more responsibility" side of the argument and say the spin-off or another compatible drama joins SHIELD. It's also possible ABC simply shoves Castle off to the Tuesday 10/9c hour (which I would mark in the "less responsibility" column).


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - The Middle
8:30 - The Goldbergs
9:00 - Modern Family
9:30 - Black-ish
10:00 - Nashville 

Question: Which comedies, if any, change nights on ABC's best Wednesday lineup yet?

We went over the merits of moving The Middle and Black-ish during Power Rankings week. At this point, neither feels like a perfectly elegant solution or a huge mistake.

Since the ultra-aggressive comedy configuration was introduced in the Tuesday section, here's the ultra-conservative one: leave all four comedies exactly where they are and let the newbie fend for itself alongside Fresh Off the Boat, or alongside another newbie with FOTB at midseason (ugh). It's conservative, but networks that have good seasons have certainly been known to rest on their laurels. There are downsides to moving either The Middle or Black-ish, and the success of Fresh at midseason opens this door a little wider on a couple levels: 1) Fresh's success reassures ABC that a newbie can be launched this way, perhaps with a similar Wednesday preview during premiere week; and 2) the Tuesday newbie should assuredly have a decent companion in Fresh.

Spot's Answer: Keeping the current lineup wouldn't be nearly as infuriating as CBS doing this a few years ago with five of the top seven scripted shows on TV, but it's still too cautious for my tastes. The best arrangement seems to be Black-ish to Tuesday alongside FOTB, though if there's a new comedy at 9:30 I could see a more cautious play like Castle or Nashville at 10/9c. If Black-ish returns to 9:30, they should definitely mark 10/9c as a new drama slot.


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - Grey's Anatomy | The Taste | Grey's Anatomy
9:00 - Scandal | The Taste | Scandal
10:00 - How To Get Away with Murder | American Crime

Question: What's going on in December and beyond?

Especially given that Scandal has looked surprisingly mortal this spring, it would be a shocker if ABC messed with this and had a different three-hour arrangement in the fall. But The Taste took another disheartening drop this winter and doesn't seem worthy of a return, while American Crime was a clear miss at 10/9c in the spring. So those slots are more interesting than the fall ones.

Spot's Answer: Expect 10/9c to be played safer in the second half of the Grey's/Scandal seasons with a Shonda or Shonda-adjacent series like Mirielle Enos' Smoke & Mirrors.

The TGIT hiatus is hazier; could the network return to the 2013-14 schedule for these shows, running them further into December? This would carve out a nice eight-week chunk at the beginning of 2016 to try a little harder with bridge programming, including maybe a scripted show. (Secrets and Lies?) I like this idea, but ABC may be more hesitant since it would hurt February sweeps ratings.


2014-15 Schedule
8:00 - Last Man Standing | Shark Tank
8:30 - Cristela | Shark Tank
9:00 - Shark Tank | Beyond the Tank
10:00 - 20/20

Question: Does the multi-camera comedy block survive?

This was the best Friday season yet in A18-49+ for Last Man Standing, and lead-out Cristela also improved on last year's very weak occupant The Neighbors. Even though the multitude of comedy successes elsewhere likely squeeze out Cristela, the ratings (or at least the ratings trend) say this should stay. However, it's not a given for two big reasons: Last Man Standing was a down-to-the-wire renewal last year, and Beyond the Tank had a promising premiere last week, potentially opening the door to the possibility of a cheaper three-hour unscripted night with equally or even higher ratings.

Spot's Answer: Unless 20th goes nuts in the Last Man negotiations, yes, it gets another year. If ABC really wanted to pull the fall schedule trigger on Beyond the Tank, they should've gotten more than a week or two of data on it.


2014-15 Schedule
7:00 - America's Funniest Home Videos
8:00 - Once Upon a Time | Galavant | Once Upon a Time
9:00 - Resurrection | Secrets and Lies
10:00 - Revenge

Question: When and where will Secrets and Lies be seen again?

Ugh. There are only a handful of times in an entire TV season when a series has palpable Heat on a week-to-week basis. The last three weeks of Secrets and Lies were one of those times. A fall return for Secrets would be a freakin' no-brainer if not for its "limited series" qualities.

Spot's Answer: There was enough growth here ratings-wise (and no great fit with Once in drama development) that I still give this a shot at getting back in play quickly on the fall sked. It may not be how the show was set up originally, but networks have been known to get the rules changed. (Remember when Gotham was capped at 15 episodes?) I'm not saying it becomes a 22-episode show; I still think it'd be a short-ish order. They just may put a rush job on it.

A show that seems to be gathering steam in recent pilot updates is The Muppets, enough so that it's another unconventional choice that I wouldn't rule out showing up in the fall alongside Once. Could have the kind of splash factor to be a draw on crowded Sunday. Expect one of the lower-end drama renewals (Castle or Nashville) at 10/9c.

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