Expanding comedy to a new night was a top priority for ABC, new programming chief Channing Dungey said of her first primetime slate as Entertainment division president. That schedule includes nine new series, five of which made the fall lineup; three new dramas and two comedies.
Channing also confirmed this morning that The Jury and Pearl will be redeveloped, as Deadline had speculated. Serialized drama The Jury follows jurors on a murder trial, and comedy Pearl stars Candice Bergen as a larger-than-life family matriarch.
Given the number of single-camera comedy series ordered for next season, including 8 renewals and 4 new series, ABC has expanded its Tuesday block in the genre to two hours, which pushes Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to 10 PM. Two of the four comedy newcomers landed on the fall schedule: American Housewife Tuesdays at 8:30 PM, and Speechless in the same timeslot on Wednesdays. Moving the Marvel drama to 10 allows it to be “edgier,” “darker,” and take more risks, said Dungey, who had shepherded that franchise’s development in her previous network post as drama chief.
“We are extremely proud of our what we like to call our ABC Funny brand. We have a distinctive brand of comedy that is working well,” Dungey told reporters in a morning phoner to discuss next season’s slate. “[Comedy] development we had this year came in very strong and, once we look at that development, in combination with the comedies we’d already brought back, it made sense to open up a new night.
“Broadcast television in particular is a fantastic home for comedy,” she said, while noting, “I did not have a hand in ordering these pilots; I had a hand in development advocacy of drama pilots. The comedies already were ordered when I took the [new] role.” But, she made a point of adding, “The schedule reflects my sensitivity about where I think the network is, and where I think we want to be going.”
Dungey’s been on the job only since February, replacing Paul Lee, though she’s been at the network since ‘09. In her previous capacity as ABC’s drama head, she worked closely with Shonda Rhimes as she developed her “TGIT” hits, though Dungey also is credited with developing Quantico, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and American Crime – all coming back next season.
“It was…more about feeling we had a big bench of comedies” than the desire to move S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Dungey said of the Tuesday re-alignment. “This is the right moment to open it up…In so doing, the schedule fell into place in that way.”
Shoring up the 10 PM timeslot across the week also was a big priority for next season, she said. Having canceled long-running dramas Castle and Nashville, ABC had to fill tough 10 PM slots on Monday and Wednesday. Mark Gordon Company’s First-Daughter-crime-fighter drama, Conviction is taking on the Monday duty, while same production operation’s Kiefer Sutherland-as-POTUS thriller Designated Survivor got the slot on Wednesdays.
As for ABC’s TGIT Thursday lineup which will not originate entirely from Shondaland this fall, Dungey said it had long been the plan to keep Scandal off in the fall (she did not mention stars Kerry Washington’s pregnancy). Rhimes’ new Still Star-Crossed, being a “big sweeping episode” required more time to properly produce, she said when asked why that was not scheduled in the open 9 PM timeslot.
“With Scandal off, it seemed to make sense to try a new show,” she said of the decision to schedule Notorious in the hour. Besides, she added wryly, “If you are playing along at home, Shonda will have five shows on the schedule by spring, so she’s going to have to expand beyond Thursday or we will not be able to accommodate them all.”
ABC won’t be so reliant going forward on the “gap” strategy that was a hallmark of ABC’s primetime under Lee, Dungey indicated. “We are not going to have a big a gap strategy as we have done in the past,” she said, noting some shows will have the longer breaks, but some will be very short this season. “We prefer not to have big gaps. This is the beginning of the evolution of how we launch shows,” she said.
Noting it was her first time presenting ABC’s Upfront plans, Dungey opened the phoner saying, “There are a lot of people on this call. I’m not going to lie to you, it makes me kind of nervous. This is my first time at the rodeo,” she said, winning the crowd over immediately.
Asked during the phone call if ABC planned to jump on to the live-musical broadcast TV bandwagon, Dungey said there were a “number of things in discussion.” Central to those talks: coming up with a franchise that is in keeping with, and expands, both the ABC and the Disney brands, she explained. (Yesterday, kicking off Upfront Week, NBC touched on its fourth live TV musical, Hairspray, which is set for December and following on the heels of holiday specials The Wiz Live, Peter Pan Live, and Sound of Music Live. Meanwhile, Fox, which got into the competition with Grease Live last January, release a trailer for upcoming October musical event, Rocky Horror Picture Show starring Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-N-Furter).