For the past couple of years, ABC has had the largest comedy contingent on the schedule with three blocks, 8-10 PM on Tuesday and Wednesday and 8-9 PM on Friday, for a 10 half-hour series total.
That will likely no longer be the case next season. Of the 10 comedy series that aired on ABC this past season, five will not be coming back. Veterans Modern Family and Fresh Off the Boat ended their runs, while sophomores Single Parents, Bless This Mess and Schooled were canceled yesterday.
Headed to the 2020-21 schedule are returning series The Conners, The Goldbergs, black-ish, and spinoff mixed-ish, and American Housewife, joined by the newly picked up straight-to-series Kari Lizer comedy Call Your Mother. (Additionally ABC has in the can the 8-episode first season of the multi-camera United We Fall, originally slated for midseason 2020, which the network has considered holding for fall if the coronavirus-related production shutdown stretches on.)
I hear one of ABC brass’ explanations for the comedy cancellations has been that the network will go down in comedy hours, possibly down to a single comedy block. While the pullback may not be that drastic, it is safe to assume that on ABC’s “return” schedule — whether it’s fall, late fall or winer, depending when Hollywood production will be able to resume — there will be the network’s signature Wednesday 8-10 PM comedy block, sans longtime 9 PM anchor Modern Family. Beyond that, the network may keep an hourlong block on Tuesday or Friday.
While this is retreat from where ABC has been the last few seasons, the network’s 2020-21 comedy roster is in line with the other networks.
CBS has had six half-hour comedies on the schedule in the last couple of seasons and is doing the same next season.
NBC, which is yet to give series orders on any of its pilots and to decide the fate of a couple of remaining bubble series, has five comedies — two returning and three new ones — on tap for next season. Fox, which has been shifting its comedy business to animation, has one returning live-action comedy series and is likely to pick up at least one new one from its pool of pilots, along with seven animated series.
In their comedy renewal decisions, ABC brass went for the strongest performers and those that made the most financial sense. The live-action network comedy business has been increasingly challenging, with the off-network syndication marker a shadow of its old self and only selected few broadcast comedies having what it takes to become a strong streaming draw and score a digital revenue windfall.
While scaling back significantly on comedies, ABC renewed the same number of drama series as last year. I hear some of the extra hours vacated by sitcoms could go to alternative programming.
ABC is expected to unveil a 2020-21 schedule in mid-June.