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

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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