New ABC President Goes For Clean Slate: Upfronts 2016


If people had questions what new ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey’s programming style will be, they got an answer today.

Dungey, working with Disney-ABC TV Group president Ben Sherwood, already differentiated herself from her predecessor, Paul Lee, by handing the network’s strongest series early renewals, giving producers security, allowing them to retain top writers and start working on storylines for next season.

the catch debutShe also made a big effort to do the network’s pickups, renewals and cancellations earlier than previous years when they would come down on Friday night before upfront week. ABC was a day ahead of schedule this year, and it was a bloodbath today: of the 11 remaining current scripted series, only 4 — John Ridley’s American Crime, Shondaland’s The Catch and comedies Dr. Ken and The Real O’Neals – survived. (Veteran Last Man Standing‘s fate is still TBD as negotiations with producer 20th TV continue).

Unlike previous years, there were no sentimental renewals, like another last-minute save for cult country music drama Nashville, or givingcastle nashville 2-shot one of the network’s longest-running drama series, Castle, a proper sendoff with a final installment. The Castle demise after eight seasons was particularly striking as it came after sister studio ABC Studios had gone to great lengths to secure a ninth season, including closing new deals with star Nathan Fillion and several co-star and creating a storm of controversy with the decision to dismiss female lead Stana Katic.

There were no nods to big Disney brands, with ABC canceling the low-rated Marvel’s Agent Carter, and The Muppets and not going forward with Marvel’s Most Wanted. 

And there were no renewals of quirky, little watched shows like costume musical comedy Galavant, with dark midseason drama The Family also quickly dismissed.

This year, the renewal choices were pretty pragmatic. The two pickups of bubble dramas went to projects from top auspices. Dungey is known for her great rapport with ABC-based producer Shonda Rhimes, with whom she developed and put on the air several series in her previous capacity as ABC’s head of drama. It is not surprising that in her first round of pickup decisions, she would bet on the network’s top producer with proven track record for a returning show, The Catch, despite its lackluster ratings performance to date, and for a new series, Still Star-Crossed, despite the fact that it does not have a completed pilot.

With the renewal of Ridley’s American Crime, the network is indicating that they will continue to support acclaimed material from creators with strong point of view even if it is not very commercial (winning Emmys for the network does not hurt either.)

Dr. Ken is un unexpressive multi-camera show which has done well on Friday and is co-owned by ABC. The show would’ve been renewed sooner if it had not been part of a larger negotiation with co-producer Sony TV.

real oneals pilot abcThe Real O’Neals is reminiscent of last midseason’s new family comedy Fresh Off the Boat. It also is a well received single-camera family comedy that has done a good job holding up its the ratings. Given the promise, and how Fresh Off the Boat has blossomed in Season 2 after a similar start, giving The Real O’Neals more time is reasonable. As a bonus, it is also owned by ABC.

There is some continuity. Dungey picked up a pet project of her predecessor, comedy pilot Downward Dog, The type of quirky material that Lee gravitated toward, the pilot about a talking dog raised some concerns about its long-term potential but its charm proved irresistible, and the new regime picked it up to series.

Overall, Dungey is starting with a clean slate. She is cutting loose marginal performers and quickly putting a stamp with shows she has put on the air.

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