Up Front About the Upfronts, Part 3: ABC Is Headed in the Right Direction

By Tim Surette

May 09, 2012

Next week, the major TV networks will announce their 2012-2013 schedules to a crowd of advertising executives in hopes that those executives will throw down a ton of money to run ads during the networks' programs. These sessions are known as the Upfronts, and they're where we'll all find out for good (mostly) what shows are renewed, what shows are canceled, and what new shows we can look forward to next year. It's, like, a really big deal you guys! So in preparation, we'll spend this week taking a look at each one of the five major networks by reviewing what they've done in the past year and predicting what's in store for 2012-2013. Today we put ABC in the hot seat!

Where ABC stands now: ABC, first in the alphabet. That's the good news. The bad news? It's going to finish behind every broadcast network not named The CW in the ratings department. While the last-place finish is mostly due to struggling NBC hosting the Super Ratings Bowl this year, it's a sign that ABC is on the wrong side of the chasm that separates the big boys from the little ones. But cheer up, ABC. Everyone's down. And at least you have a promising future!

What worked this year: Despite what the numbers say, ABC actually had a good year. It made huge strides in both drama and comedy by establishing new franchises and fortifying a network identity ("we're not macho") that looks like it's going to stick around for a while. Once Upon a Time is a Top 20 show in the 18-49 demo after one season, and Revenge is being gossiped about in offices all over the country. The network's Wednesday comedy block, anchored by the crowd-pleasing Modern Family and supported by the critically praised Suburgatory, is now a fixture on the TV landscape and a potential juggernaut. This is a network with its heels dug in, and it's ready to push back.

What failed this year: Fake love just isn't cherished by the American public anymore. Both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are long divorced from being major franchises. Dancing With the Semi-Celebrities is also trending downward faster than its contestants' careers. The River turned out to be yet another failed serialized genre series that ended up in the pile labeled "All serialized shows that aren't Lost." Charlie's Angels 2.0 flopped as expected, and Pan Am predictably did not cash in on the hype around '60s-styled shows. And let's not forget about Work It, the most embarrassing gamble any network took this year.

What's ahead for ABC: A big hole is opening up as Desperate Housewives calls it a series. But ABC knows it's found success in primetime soaps and has plenty of those in development, ready to fill the void—Housewives creator Marc Cherry's Devious Maids is a likely candidate to sizzle. And though it might be getting into the reality singing competition game a little late, ABC's identity could change on a dime depending on the success of the summer experiment Duets. Other than that, it's time to continue adding and building.

What ABC should be careful with: Look, ABC, I know you loved having Lost and you're doing all you can to find a replacement serialized sci-fi event, but so far you've come up with squat (not counting Once Upon a Time, which benefits from skewing female and fitting in nicely with the rest of your Sunday programming). Let's review: FlashForward, V, Invasion, The River, No Ordinary Family. Instead of taking the first cool-sounding project, work closely with an established genre showrunner and create a series with some weight to it. And please, no more found-footage shows.

Risky proposal that could pay off: Hate to say it, but there's no shame in pandering to the masses. If you're going to go for it with a Tim Allen sitcom (Last Man Standing), go all in and build a few shows that match its style. Is Kevin James available? How about Brad Garrett? Put them at the center of some fake families, have multiple cameras capture their hilarious disconnect with young people and wives, and laugh-track your way to the bank. Don't make the same mistake you did this year by pairing Last Man Standing with a terrible Modern Family rip-off and a show about a group of friends in Florida.

What scheduling changes would YOU make if you were an ABC executive?

Up Front About the Upfronts, Part 2: Where does Fox stand?
Up Front About the Upfronts, Part 1: Where does NBC stand?

Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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  • Kadodian May 13, 2012

    ABC makes my favorite shows to be honest.

  • JT_Kirk May 13, 2012

    I never got the impression that ABC was struggling, they had very few weak moves this last season and their programming is pretty tight across the board for every day of the week, hitting their target audiences fairly well. I'm surprised to see it hasn't gotten them past Fox - I guess folks are finally growing tired of watching celebrities dance. Anyway, I surely don't see ABC as the ratings nuclear wasteland that is NBC or the laughable "ratings" of The CW (any show you premiere that has so few viewers that the president of the network can spend a few weeks personally thanking each one is a bad sign).

    You know what I see from ABC? They don't go for big flashy events to grab ratings, they simply hold the line and slowly develop new stuff that fits. They are like CBS in that respect, just putting on good tv week after week instead of trying to fool audiences into viewing the way Fox and NBC keep doing.

    If it was me, I'd get a sporting event people want to watch for one of those days, I'd test the waters of sci-fi with a Friday show at 10pm, and I'd rebrand ABC newsmagazines as more important again (or alternately a new sleazy top-tier main-season reality show).

  • bkyle2429 May 11, 2012

    a little side note if count the Superbowl then ABC would win due to COLLEGE FOOTBALL, and MNF

  • bkyle2429 May 11, 2012

    gee with Desperate Housewives, GCB, Revenge, DWTS, Once Upon a Time, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice MIssing, and even Pan Am(PA was very good) plus in overall rating you Don't count the SUPERBOWL !! here are my rankings for the networks , now the numbers may not line up but here they are

    1. CBS 2. ABC 3. THE CW 4. FOX 5. NBC

  • MegLady May 11, 2012

    I actually like the River. I like the mystery and supernatural edge it has to it, kind of like Supernatural but serialized. I do hope it gets renewed or perhaps picked up by a different network. It could work on FX next to American Horror Story pretty well, in my opinion.

  • TrevPlatt May 10, 2012

    I have to say that the comedy block on ABC is great, but I'd think it was perfect if they changed it to Happy Endings (best show ABC have), Apartment 23, Suburgatory and Cougar Town, but considering they are (probably) going to cancel Cougar Town I can live with The Middle staying in there until the parents get divorced (or Frankie goes postal). I'm not a fan Modern Family, but I do like Last Man Standing. Not really a huge Allen fan, and the wife is a terrible character (Nancy Travis isn't a particularly good actor either) but the three daughters are great, a little bit cliched, but they are good actors and they're always funny.

    I do like Castle so I'm glad that will be sticking around and I also watch Grey's Anatomy, but if they said season 9 will be it's last I really wouldn't mind (to be honest I think they are waiting until they have a new, fresh medical drama to replace it). Once Upon A Time is OK, but I was seriously getting fed up with it until the last couple of episodes, this strong finish might convince me to watch season 2 (I do hope they use Meghan Ory a lot more next season though).

    Rookie Blue and Breakout Kings are great shows. I hope they both return for several seasons. Bar Southland, Rookie Blue is the best cop show on TV and Breakout Kings has a great premise and the character dynamics are fantastic. Both shows are well written with interesting characters and I'd welcome some more dramas like these on ABC.

    Looking to the future they have Longmire starting on June the 3rd, which looks like it could be a great western. Last Resort, about a nuclear sub that goes rouge, which I'm really looking forward to and 666 Park Avenue, which could be another American Horror Story (although it could just as equally be a massive flop), will probably make it to series. Sitcom The Smart One will also (probably) be making it to series so they wil probably replace Cougar Town with this, unless they add it to the Comedy Block some how?

    Personally, I think the future looks bright for ABC.

  • torque_smacky May 10, 2012

    How was No Ordinary Family even remotely like Lost? Explain.

  • cyberdjinn May 10, 2012

    Two words: superhuman abilities.

  • jaden84 May 10, 2012

    I think ABC is doing a pretty good job despite some bad mistakes they aired this season. Just bring back Missing next season, I love that show.

  • Writerpatrick May 10, 2012

    ABC should forget sci-fi; they're just not cut out for it. However, they really need to focus more on fantasy which has always been one of their strong points. For example, Fantasy Island, Pushing Daisies and the original Wonder Woman. Even Love Boat was something of a romantic fantasy. While the network hasn't offered a lot of it, they tend to do fairly well when they do. Well, maybe not with Covington Cross (a precursor to Game of Thrones).

  • DavidJackson8 May 10, 2012

    I kind of liked The River... it had a decent mix of bizarre and lame to make for pretty fun television. Oh, well.

    Happy Endings is really the only show that I DEMAND be back (yes, like an entitled douche).

    Suburgatory, Modern Family, B in 23, and Castle are the only other ABC shows I watch, and while I like all of them (maybe 'like' is too strong a word for Modern Family), I doubt I'd revolt against ABC if any of them are messed around with on the schedule or aren't brought back.

  • docspector May 10, 2012

    Happy Endings AND Cougar Town. But yeah.

  • Mate May 10, 2012

    ooo crap I forgot Cougar Town

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