ABC on Friday made its new scripted series picks for next season, ordering nine new series, five dramas and four comedies. While that seems like a lot, it’s way down from last year’s slate of whopping 14 new series. (This year’s tally may go up by one if sudser Mistresses, ordered for next summer, is summoned for midseason.). The reason for the decline has to do with the fact that ABC is bringing back six freshman series, more than any other network in years. That includes comedies Suburgatory, Don’t Trust The B—- and Last Man Standing and dramas Once Upon A Time, Scandal and Revenge.
The majority of ABC’s programming appeals to women, so the network seems to be hunting for male viewers too. Out of nine new drama series introduced this season, only one, The River, had substantial male appeal. (Horror is very popular with females too.) This year, of the six newly-picked dramas, two are testosterone-heavy — the Anthony Edwards-starring conspiracy thriller Zero Hour and the submarine crew drama Last Resort starring Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman — as ABC is looking to lure back male fans who may have deserted the network after the end of Lost. Lost fans may also be willing to check out the spooky new drama 666 Park Ave, which so-stars Lost alum Terry O’Quinn, about supernatural occurrences in a New York building. 666 was one of three “magical” drama pilots orders as potential companions to ABC’s breakout freshman Once Upon A Time, along with Gotham and Beauty and the Beast.
For a second straight year, ABC is trying to build a slate of male-centered comedies. Of the three such shows launched this season, Last Man Standing, Man Up and Work It, only one, Last Man Standing, is coming back. It is being joined by another male comedy, the single-camera Kyle Bornheimer starrer Family Tools (aka Red Man Van). Additionally, fellow new single-camera comedy series, Dan Fogelman’s The Neighbors, is a male-friendly family comedy as it involves aliens.
There were a couple of surprises in ABC’s drama choices — the late surge of Zero Hour, which had flown largely under the radar and had a so-so screening but I hear was boosted by strong last-minute testing results. Also surprising was the pass on the Anthony Lapaglia-starring soap Americana, whose buzz had its ups and downs but it had been looking good in the final stretch. While ABC may be looking to replicate the success of Lost with Last Resort, which also is taking place on an island, it opted not to pick up a series that had a lot of the DNA of another of the Big 3 series — Lost, Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy — that turned ABC’s fortunes around during the 2004-05 season. Devious Maids, which, like Desperate Housewives, is a murder mystery with four female friends at the center and was written by Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry, with Desperate star Eva Longoria as an executive producer, did not get a series order. In the soap field, Americana and Devious Maids were out-muscled by two projects penned by the writers of feature hits: frontrunner Nashville, written by Thelma and Louise‘s Callie Khouri and staring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere and the mob-themed Red Widow, written by Twilight’s Melissa Rosenberg abd starring Radha Mitchell.
On the comedy side, it was surprising that the network passed on both of its “girl” pilots, the untitled Mandy Moore one and American Judy starring Judy Greer. Another single-camera comedy with an appealing young star, How To Live With Your Parents, toplined by Sarah Chalke, made it to the schedule, along with the multi-camera Malibu Country starring veteran Reba McEntire. The latter is groomed as a companion to the only other multi-camera comedy on ABC, Last Man Standing, also starring a comedy vet, Tim Allen. In addition to sharing a comedy block, the two series will also share a showrunner. Kevin Abbott, creator/executive producer/showrunner of Malibu Country, also took over Last Man Standing as showrunner in December, following the departure of creator Jack Burditt. Next season, he will run both concurrently. The only other comedy showrunner with multiple series on the air is Chuck Lorre with three sitcoms on CBS.
As for ABC’s scheduling plans, by returning six comedy series and picking up four new ones, the network is clearly looking to expand its current two-hour comedy block on Wednesday and one-hour block on Tuesday. But how? Expanding the Tuesday block to two hours is a possibility but that would require a change in the airing pattern of Dancing With The Stars. Relaunching ABC’s signature TGIF comedy block on Friday has long been rumored as one of ABC chief Paul Lee’s passion projects. It would make sense, especially for older-skewing Last Man Standing and Malibu Country. But with ABC’s current unscripted/newsmagazine Friday lineup on fire, often finishing No.1 on the night against scripted competition on CBS, would ABC mess with one of its most successful nights? That leaves us with Thursdays. ABC has struggled to successfully launch a show at 8 PM since Ugly Betty. Will it try with comedies against CBS and NBC?