Proof that the line between movies and TV continues to blur comes from the strong response to yesterday’s Sundance screening of four episodes of the ABC sitcom Downward Dog. Now, the question is, can Sundance prove as effective a launch pad that changes the fortunes of a TV show the way it has for features films like Manchester By The Sea and so many others? Downward Dog is best described as Girls, if Lena Dunham had an adoring talking dog. The show was the first by a major network to play Sundance, and the four eps were watched by a full house that responded strongly.
It will be interesting to see if this creates pressure on ABC, which, much to the consternation of everyone involved in the show, slotted the show for summer. It wasn’t ABC that submitted the episodes to Sundance; that was done by Legendary, the studio behind the sitcom.
In contention for the coveted Tuesday 9:30 PM slot for mid-season, Downward Dog lost out to Imaginary Mary with Jenna Elfman. The network, chock full of successful comedies, had no mid-season slots left to offer, which meant it could only unleash Downward Dog in summer. Granted, the eight episodes will air right after The Bachelorette, a strong lead-in for a show targeting a female demo, but summer bows pale in comparison to fall and mid-season slots.
Downward Dog was commissioned by Paul Lee, the former BBC exec behind The Office before coming to the U.S. to run ABC with a mandate to add some edge. Downward Dog lost its main advocate when he exited, even though ABC went ahead and shot the batch that exists. The episodes were given a hearty introduction by Sundance director John Cooper, not by ABC brass. At this point, the hope of the show’s producers is that the Sundance buzz prompts another outlet — ABC has a tight relationship with original programming-hungry Hulu, for instance — to step up and adopt the stray. Seems like the masters of this pooch are intent on howling until it escapes the summer doghouse.