Hey all. It’s been too long. I’ve been really busy this fall and writing elsewhere (hopefully you’re following me over at This Was Television and TV.com). But frequent contributor Wesley Ambrecht decided to exchange some emails about the state of the broadcast networks with sweeps
upon us (well now over, but still). We have tackled Fox, NBC and CBS. Now it is time for ABC, with The CW coming soon.
Wesley: Moving right along, next up is ABC. After a year of ups (Revenge, Once Upon A Time) and downs (Missing, Pan Am, GCB), Paul Lee rolled out a mostly conservative schedule this fall, but the network continues to find itself in fourth. None of their new dramas have taken off and two have already been axed. So, let’s talk about the new offerings first.
On the drama front, ABC rolled out 666 Park Ave, Last Resort and Nashville, only the latter of which was awarded additional episodes. I’ve seen 3 of Last Resort and I’ve liked what them all to varying degrees. Much like Revolution, Last Resort has merely been a casualty of time or a lack thereof. I’ll likely catch up over the holiday season, especially since they’re shooting 113 as a series finale. Despite a terrific cast, I can’t say I’m surprised Last Resort didn’t catch on. ABC handicapped it with the Thursday 8 p.m. timeslot and the marketing campaign was geared mostly towards males when that isn’t the network’s core competency. Nashville, on the other hand, should probably be a much bigger hit than it is. A female driven soap with a conceit meant to lure in Middle America, how is that not doing boffo numbers on ABC? Personally, I thought Nashville was fine. I’m not in love with the show but, in a year filled with mediocrity, I do think Nashville rises above. 666 Park Ave I have actually yet to watch. I’m not sure how that happened, but I’m hoping to have seen it by the time you send me your thoughts.
ABC’s two new laughers have fared better than the dramas with each getting additional episode orders. The Neighbors received a full season pickup several weeks back and Malibu Country had five more tacked on yesterday. I’ve seen one of each and feel mostly apathetic towards both. How about you?
Cory: If were we talking about ABC’s new shows six weeks ago, I probably would have had a lot more to say, or at least had more interest. I won’t even pretend to say much about 666. I watched the pilot and realized that I never needed to see another second of it. Last Resort and Nashville were my two favorite drama pilots of the season and I probably liked the former more than the latter at that stage. However, while I admire the hell out of Last Resort‘s ambition, scope, and general grandeur, Shawn Ryan and company took a big bite. In those first few post-pilot offerings, I wasn’t sure if they could chew it up and swallow it down (I now regret introducing this metaphor), and I fell behind. I watched episodes four and five the day before the show was cancelled. I hope to go back over holiday break when I’m finalizing my lists and such, but it’s really disappointing that show is gone, even if we all knew it was happening as soon as ABC put it on Thursdays at 8 p.m. That timeslot is poisonous.
Nashville had a great pilot too, and as far as I’m concerned, as stayed right on a similar level. Connie Britton is, as always, wonderful, but I’ve been surprised with Hayden P’s work. I know that Heroes made everyone look bad, but she never did strong work over there. Here though, she’s brought real depth to a character that could have gone south pretty quickly. That’s another show that probably has one story too many each week, but unlike Last Resort, the stories on Nashville are so familiar and straightforward, it’s easy to keep track of what’s going on, even when something’s a bit boring or not tracking in an individual episodes.
I’m not even going to mention the comedies. Apparently The Neighbors has turned into a mediocre, inoffensive sitcom. That’s cool I guess. And good for Reba. I like her.
What are your impressions with how ABC has done this season? Moving Revenge to Sundays has been okay for them, the comedies are getting drubbed on Tuesday and Dancing with the Stars was down in an all-star year. Why can’t ABC catch on with viewers in the way it feels like they do and/or should?
Wesley: While I take offense with your Heroes jab, I’ll move right past it and onto ABC’s problems. Odds are I’m starting to sound like a broken record because it’s down year for everyone (except NBC); but, this definitely seems like a down year for ABC. In addition to their to relative failures of their new shows, they’ve also seen a decline in the buzz surrounding last year’s hits Revenge and Once Upon A Time. This, despite, pairing them together on Sunday nights.
I was speaking with the ever mysterious Big TV Fan the other day, and he has some interesting thoughts on what Paul Lee and company will do, which you can read over on his site. Personally, I don’t think we’ll see too much change come mid-season. The evil you know being better than the evil you don’t and all. Obviously, as you noted, the comedy block on Tuesday isn’t working. That probably gets dismantled, but I don’t presume to guess where its parts will land. Maybe summer?
Even ABC’s biggest shows seem to have lost some luster. Dance With the Stars is down, Private Practice is limping to its series finale and no one seems to talk about Modern Family anymore. Truth be told, I’m not really sure why ABC is struggling so much. I expected Nashville to be a huge hit, and I thought Revenge would grow in viewers behind Once Upon a Time. Neither of those things has proven to be true. Worse yet, I don’t think ABC has a big hit in their tank to prop them up come January. Red Widow may be their best bet and even that doesn’t seem flashy enough. Do you have any theories as to why things aren’t working? Do you think ABC will shake up its schedule drastically?
Cory: There is disappointment everywhere. I understood the logic behind moving Revenge to Sundays, but I assume that move was under the condition that the show wouldn’t fall apart. While Sunday’s mid-season finale was a great offering, the show has been a mess in season two. The motivations are vaguer and the machinations are mysterious-er. The show is still entertaining, but I guess we should be happy that there was a show here for at least 22 episodes when everyone was asking how there was enough for 13 when it debuted. Once had a really great, promising premiere and subsequently drove towards a cliff. That show is a little too infatuated with the novelty of bringing certain characters together and it’s so quest-based that I’ve lost most of my emotional connection to it. As Big TV Fan suggested in that post, you have to imagine that ABC has strongly considered moving Nashville to Sundays at 10 PM and trying one of their midseason dramas in that post-comedy timeslot on Wednesday, but although they have a lot of new shows coming in midseason, they have the same problem that they always do at this time: all of them look terrible. Red Widow and Zero Hour are like bad, mid-aught TNT miniseries offerings.
ABC’s had this problem you addressed for a few years. Last season, it seemed like every great new show was on ABC (Once, Revenge, Suburgatory, Don’t Trust the B) and yet, it didn’t really translate into big ratings. Modern Family will do fine for forever, but you’re right, the critical/Twitter community has completely given up on it (which doesn’t really matter, but still). Suburgatory and The Middle continue to do their thing and the former is doing great stuff this year, but it’s never going to break out, clearly. Dancing is down and now, it’s not even useful as a lead-in for any of the new shows in the off-chance ABC would do the smart thing and move Castle to a different spot. The Bachelor has done pretty well in recent years, so maybe that helps ABC catch up on Tuesdays while NBC rests The Voice, but you know that Fox will trot out Idol on at least a few of those days.
ABC is stuck. They’re not doing so bad that it’s time to go scorched earth, but they’re not doing well enough to keep moving in this same direction. They always have way too many shows and nowhere to put them (we can’t forget about the new comedies, Family Tools and that Sarah Chalke one with the long-ass title), but not because the shows already in the slots are doing so well. They clearly aren’t willing to ditch Dancing. They don’t want to move Castle. They won’t mess with Wednesday too much, Sunday either. So what’s the move? Where do any of these new things go?
Wesley: Well, Mr. Barker, I in fact know when ABC plans to air all of its midseason content. In the 24 hours it took me to respond to your email, Paul Lee went ahead an announced most of the scheduling decisions I expected him to. Red Widow, which I seem to be the only person interested in, will slide into the slot vacated by 666 Park Ave. Given the potential thematic overlap with Revenge and the certainty that ABC will promote Widow as “a show from Twilight scribe Melissa Rosenberg,” that seems about right to me. Then again, GCB was a tailor-made companion for Desperate Housewives and it flopped.
ABC’s refusal to move Castle is the definition of playing it safe, but it’s defensible. Their decision to send Body of Proof back to Tuesdays at 10pm, however, is not. If anything scripted was going to fill the Last Resort void, it should have been BOP. Instead, it gets the cushy slot, while Zero Hour is forced to slug it out with American Idoland The Big Bang Theory. Poor Dr. Green. Poor Cappie. Poor Gotham and Americana, two ABC pilots that were passed over in favor of this nonsensical drama born to die.
Once The Neighbors wraps its season, Suburgatory will slide back to 8:30pm on Wednesdays to make room for the Sarah Chalke vehicle How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life). Like The Neighbors, Suburgatory will also close up shop early this season. And, when it does, Family Tools will slot in behind The Middle. As of now, both the Tuesday and Friday comedy blocks remain untouched. Though, something tells me ABC will change their mind before February sweeps, right?
Of all the announcements ABC made today, the most exciting was the revelation that Celebrity Diving will join their schedule in March. I assume you’ll be covering that for TV.com .
Cory: Those moves are all pretty predictable. You’re right about Widow‘s possible compatibility with Revenge and despite that show’s declining ratings, I guess that’s the best free slot ABC has right now. It’s a little surprising that Suburgatory is moving back, if only because it didn’t get much time in the post-Modern Family slot, but it’s pretty clear that the audience is the audience. But How to Live with Your Parents is what, the sixth show that’s aired in that 9:30 spot (Cougar Town, Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B, The Neighbors, Suburgatory)? I know that timeslots aren’t what they once were, but it’s super weird to me that CBS can manage to create hits with its cushy timeslots (well, before this season) while ABC has yet to get any use out of Modern Family (you know, other than massive ad rates and dozens of unwarranted awards). And really, that’s a problem that ABC has had for years. Grey’s never really “made” any hits, Lost struggled with it, and Dancing has spent most its time buoying just-fine offerings like Castle. Seems like it might be happening with Once now as well. ABC always manages to have three or four good, even popular shows, but they don’t ever lead to a really strong schedule.
What are you watching on ABC outside of the new shows? Still in on Once?
Wesley: It’s easy to point at Modern Family and say it’s a bad lead-in, but that would imply ABC has scheduled compatible series behind it. They have not. Cougar Town, on top of being bad at the outset and only subpar since, is not a family show. Happy Endings is not a family show. Don’t Trust the B is definitely not a family show. This fall ABC gave The Neighbors one week behind Modern Family, and in that one week it became the most sensible pair MF has ever had. I like Suburgatory a lot but even it seems too old-skewing and hip to be airing behind Modern Family, and thus WAY too old and hip to be airing behind The Middle. Based solely on its teaser, it appears as though How to Live with Your Parents could be a decent companion for MF. Sarah Chalke, Brad Garrett and Elizabeth Perkins are all recognizable faces and the conceit is amusing enough. Still, and I’ve said this before, I’d love to see ABC develop a family sitcom around Kevin Hart and stick it right behind Modern Family. He could even play his Modern Family character and then ABC could call it a spin-off.
As for what I’m watching on ABC right now, mostly comedy. So, the aforementioned Suburgatory and Happy Endings plus a handful of Modern Family episodes. Unlike you, I didn’t have the wherewithal to stick with Revenge. And, from all of your tweets this fall, it looks like cutting that cord was wise. And, while I have every intention of picking Once Upon A Time back up (maybe next week), I have yet to watch a frame of season 2. What I’ve found this fall is, when faced with a plethora of deadlines and depressing classwork, I tend to watch a ton more comedy than drama. Thus, I’m behind on nearly every hour long show I watch. I take it your up to date? Has it really depreciated in quality that badly? I was pretty pumped for Jamie Chung as Mulan.
Cory: No, you’re right about the shows not lining up. It’s just interesting, especially considering that ABC has had trouble using its prime shows to build new shows for a while now.
Revenge has just fallen victim to so many of the things that plague all sorts of shows in their sophomore seasons. Too much, too quickly. I don’t care anymore. Once Upon a Time has been better, if only because it’s been more coherent. I really loved the premiere because it suggested that they were going to stop with so many of the poor flashbacks, but the introduction of all the new characters means more flashbacks to explain how they “shockingly” know characters we’re familiar with. It seems like people are going crazy for Hook, but he hasn’t really moved the needle for me. I admire the show’s ability to do new things and keep moving past the original conceit, but I think I’m just no longer emotionally invested in the show. They brought certain characters together just to pull them apart, and so much of the framework, with the flashes back and sideways, feels so obviously trying to be Lost (even more than S1) that I can’t stay interested. But I think you liked the show more in season one than I did anyway, so you might love it.
You’re still watching Modern Family? How is that this season? I checked out after the premiere. I just don’t have the time anyone to bore myself for 30 minutes every week. And if you were a betting man, would you bet on Happy Endings A.) staying on the schedule through the season and B.) making it to next fall?
Wesley: Once was a show that I actually ended up binging on in June, after falling way behind. It has its fair share of problems but I admired what they’re trying to accomplish. It also helps that they have a stellar cast.
Modern Family is Modern Family. It’s totally innocuous. I can still see why it garners huge ratings but it’s not appointment TV for me. Mostly, I’m still watching for that occasional episode where everything just clicks. My gut says both Happy Endings and Apt 23 get pulled for sweeps. Whether they return to Tuesdays after that, I don’t know. I can see ABC holding them for summer to see if they rate any better then. I may have said this before but I fully expect Apt 23 to get the axe. The CW may look at it, but I doubt the financials make sense for them. Happy Endings may earn another season for syndication purposes. Even then, I can’t imagine its back on the fall schedule next year.
Cory: You’re probably right about the Tuesday comedies. It looks like they’ll be running new episodes into the summer considering they won’t come back until after Dancing, which doesn’t begin until March 23, ends. It’s unclear if ABC wants to give Happy Endings the benefit of the doubt because of that treacherous timeslot, but perhaps the show will look better if Dancing struggles a bit there in the spring. Apt 23 is probably dead no matter what. Maybe both can join Cougar Town on TBS!