Upfront ’13 Thoughts: ABC

Last season ABC had the best freshmen class of the year launching hits Once Upon A Time, Revenge, Suburgatory and Last Man Standing which all returned for a season 2. This season ABC didn’t have that kind of success with new shows (though Nashville, while not a home run is a solid double or triple with opportunity for growth). But I do think ABC has some nice positives this season:

Scandal which launched with 7 eps last season has blossomed into a big hit. Most of its originals in 2013 have been getting a 2.8 or 2.7 at 10p on Thu which is the highest rated same day results for any 10p broadcast show currently.

Shark Tank is the other big success story for ABC. It’s probably extra sweet for them as the show is already in its 4th season and after a 1st season that wasn’t a lock for renewal, it has grown each year. This is the first season that ABC gave it a full season order which has now extended to 26 eps. It regularly is the highest rated demo show on Fri night. Its last original got a 2.1. 2s and Friday night are an extremely rare thing these days. For ABC it has been even rarer.  Shark Tank is one of ABCs biggest hits now and more importantly for the network, it reruns incredibly well and in any timeslot its been used in. All the more reason I think ABC should finally move it to a more viewed night, but more on that later.

The Bachelor has proven that after 11 years, with the right casting, it’s still a strong ratings performer and watercooler show.

To continue with The Bachelor metaphor, not everything for ABC was coming up roses. The biggest problem for ABC is the continued downtrend for Dancing With The Stars. A 2.2 and 13 million in 2013 isn’t terrible, but it also gets zero DVR boost, so thats the ceiling for this show now. Its older skewing and each of the last 4 iterations has trended down.  Last fall, I suggested ABC sit out this spring out and give it a much-needed rest. They didn’t and who knew maybe with fresh casting (as opposed to last falls All Star version) people would return. What has come to pass is that The Voice is much bigger than ever and DWTS is now a full 3 points behind it. On many Mondays at 8p it’s 3rd behind CBS and NBC and with DVR added to Bones, it’s 4th. That’s not good for a show and a network that was easily #1 in this slot just 2 years ago.

Before you point to the fact that it’s a performance based show against the biggest one on TV currently, I present the Tuesday night results show ratings from the other night as Exhibit A. The Voice ended at 9 and Ready For Love had sent viewers fleeing for their remotes. CBS and FOX were in reruns. The best DWTS could do was TIE an NCIS rerun for #1 in viewers (12 plus million) and the demo (2.2). That’s the real ratings potential of the show right now and frankly ABC can do better. In fact ABC has done better this year with The Bachelor. The Bachelor was in the high 2’s (even hitting a 3.0 occasionally) and getting 9 plus million viewers a week by the time the show ended this season. A Tuesday episode got a 2.7 this February against original competition. The Bachelor is a very high income show (one of the biggest on TV), is younger skewing (big with Women 18-34) and at this point isn’t too far off from the total viewers DWTS is bringing in. (The one area DWTS was still ahead of The Voice was in total viewers but in the last 2 weeks The Voice has grown to 14 plus million – a million ahead of DWTS and they have the younger demos too).

While The Bachelor didn’t air against The Voice this season, it did last year and last years The Bachelor was one of the weakest seasons the show had produced. Even so, in their first head to head on Monday last year, The Voice got a 6.7 (which came directly after its Super Bowl lead-in premiere),  The Bachelor held up with a 2.5 which is higher than any DWTS number has gotten against The Voice now (and that was for a weaker Bachelor season).

The Bachelor is a different animal. Yes they’re both in the reality or “alternative” category but one’s a performance show and one is a dating show with a very passionate young audience. As I have suggested before and for over the past month repeated regularly on Twitter, I think ABC would benefit greatly from flipping the order of the Monday night alternative series:  Instead of DWTS airing in the fall and Winter, it should air in January. The Bachelor would take the fall and spring slots. DWTS would get a 7 month rest – the longest the show has been off the air since ’06- and give the audience a chance to miss it. It can return in January presumably when The Voice is off between its two cycles. With a longer break, being the only performance show and maybe with some creative casting, it’s certainly possible for DWTS to grow again. The Bachelor should be able to hold up better against The Voice and still do quite well especially with Women 18-34.

So ABC should start their week with The Bachelor. What should air at 10? I could certainly understand ABC wanting to leave Castle there as it’s a strong and consistent performer, but I have another idea. A few months ago I wrote a post that Nashville, while not the game changer ABC was likely hoping for, was still a pretty good performer for 2013 and that ABC should leave it in their previously troubled Wed 10p slot. There was only one caveat where I thought might benefit moving it and that was if The Bachelor was on Monday in the fall. Well now that I am proposing that, I am suggesting ABC move Nashville to Monday in the fall to follow it.

Nashville has a strong core audience, especially in the same Women 18-34 demo that the Bachelor appeals to. All season its been regularly getting a 1.3 upgrade after 7 days of DVR viewing making it one of falls biggest gainers. Adding that to a high 1 (its last new ep got a 1.8), that’s really decent for a 10p drama these days. It didn’t fall off too much from its Suburgatory lead all this year, mostly just off a few tenths and Suburgatory has proven itself to be an ill-fitting post Modern Family show. It’s hard to imagine, but it did worse this year than last with a much bugger lead in. Tonally it seemed a bit off from MF too and it certainly wasn’t driving many people into Nashville.

In the most recent DVR list (Week of March 25) Nashville was the 6th biggest DVR gainer in the demo and ABCs 3rd best DVR gainer behind Modern Family and Grey’s (ahead of every other ABC show and shows on other nets like 2 Broke Girls, NCIS, Bones etc).  The first Nashville soundtrack has done well and many of the songs featured on the show have been big Itunes sellers. Nashville has a lot going for it and while leaving it on Wed is a fine option, it probably won’t grow there, especially as CBS is still very strong with CSI and NBC became a player this season with Chicago Fire.

I think there is growth potential paired with The Bachelor as (unlike Suburgatory) it’s a show that really matches the audience that watches Nashville, AND there’s more of them that watch it live. ABC could leave Castle there or try to launch a new show, but a new show could easily flop. Nashville already gets a 1.8 with an incompatible lead in (not far off from Castle in the demo). It’s worth noting that Scandal didn’t really start to move the ratings needle until its 7th ep this season (it’s 14th episode overall). Nashville has much going for it, but it needs to expand its same day audience. Airing after The Bachelor presents an opportunity for that, I believe.

I also think that unlike Wed where I expect CBS and NBC to remain the same, the Monday 10p timeslot is possibly in flux. While Revolution is a hit, it’s not getting 3’s like it was in early fall. CBS will likely make a change to 10p Monday next season either with a new show or moving an established one there. Plus it’s also possible a few The Voice viewers might be tempted to migrate over to Nashville at 10p.

ABC Monday should be aimed squarely at Women 18-34 from 8-11 and go with The Bachelor into Nashville.

(I also think ABC should air reruns of the show on Sat all summer to give new people a chance to discover it, in a timeslot where low rated reruns won’t hurt.  I don’t know the financial logistics of making an arrangement for CMT to air reruns of the show during the summer, but I would recommend that as well. It’s worth noting that Nashville had its highest rated episodes of the season, except for the premiere, its first 2 weeks back in Jan (both over a 2.0) which followed a Sunday afternoon marathon of 6 eps on CMT. There are ways for ABC to keep this show in people’s minds and possibly recruit some new viewers over the summer and I think they should definitely explore it).

ABC should attack Tue. For over a year I’ve lamented the big 10p hole on network TV, but this year it’s extended to 9p. ABC had a huge opportunity to attack it in Jan, while The Voice was on hiatus. For whatever reason, they didn’t take it. I suggested they move Shark Tank to 9p, a slot with no reality show. I haven’t changed my position. Shark Tank is getting a 2.0 and 7 million on Friday night. It has grown every one of its years on the air. There are probably people who still are unaware of the show. On a more viewed night, like Tuesday there is the potential for it to grow even more. ABC will have a reality hole here with no DWTS and I think Shark Tank could easily outrate its recent ratings. Shark Tank could also provide ABC something they haven’t had on Tuesday in years – an hour that will bring in numbers every week, even in reruns, all season. Even when DWTS was at its height, ABC had 4 months in the middle of the season when Tuesday ratings were anemic at best. Shark Tank regularly gets a 1.5 and 5 million in reruns on Friday night. I think ABC should make ST its Tuesday tentpole and schedule new dramas around it. Wednesday and Thursday will have minimal changes and ABC can send the bulk of its marketing to a new Tuesday.

ABC should start off the night with Marvel’s Agents Of Shield. We all know this is a lock for pickup. It’s obviously gonna end up on Thu, Sun or here. With 2 strong dramas on Thu, I think its less needed there. Sunday after OUAT is certainly an option, which could prop up that night, but it would face the NFL there and this show feels like it could be a big tent, a whole family watching type of show and Sunday Night Football is watched live. Right now ABC Tuesday is the one night where they need something EVERY hour (unlike Thu and Sun). Plus one thing it could potentially have in common with Shark Tank, is the latter is a show families watch together. Shark Tank is appealing to everyone from 8 to 88. SHIELD is aiming for everyone too, especially since it’s from the same auspices as The Avengers which brought in 600 million dollars domestically.

As it has been the last few seasons there is no strong broadcast 10p drama. (On cable Sons Of Anarchy is huge, especially with men.) I think ABC should pick one of their best new female skewing dramas at 10 or something lighter and less high concept than SHIELD.  They have a number of high concept conspiracy/soap type/Revenge sounding female skewing dramas I,.e, Betrayal, Westside (which based on logline alone sounds a lot like FOXs ill-fated SKIN) and Reckless. It’s hard to get a read on ABCs drama slate this year, though they boast strong casts and directors like Patty Jenkins and Martin Campbell. Tue at 10p is a good place for them to place a new drama they think they has a good shot at breaking out since it’s the one hour on the schedule where no broadcast network has a hit. If you believe advance buzz (which I tend not to at this point since in many cases it changes), Westside (formerly Venice) is “red hot”. Who knows?

One thing that seems like is missing from ABCs development these last two seasons is lighter fare like Ugly Betty & Brothers & Sisters. ABCs highest rated drama Grey’s has lots of humor and lightness to it. That’s part of the DNA of the network. It seems like many of their shows in development the last 2 years are more Revenge-y. The one drama that seems a bit lighter is also a bit more procedural sounding (and I usually advise against ABC from going that route as they tend not to work for them). .The show I’m referring to is Murder in Manhattan which stars Annie Potts and Bridget Regan as a mother/daughter sleuth team. It’s clearly a lighter mystery show (like Castle) and clearly a family drama as well. FX will definitely attract the men on cable, and its possible CBS has an NCIS show here as well. ABC should schedule a new drama female skewing. It’s important to note that Castle is ABCs highest rated drama in total viewers. A light mystery/family drama seems like a good capper to what I am describing as ABCs big Tent Tuesday. It will most likely be counterprogramming to everything else in the hour.

Right now I’m suggesting Tuesday to look like this: Marvels’s Agents of SHIELD/Shark Tank/Their strongest female skewing new drama. Possibly Westside or Murder in Manhattan

Update: Sat 4/20 – I inadvertently left out David Shore’s next project Doubt which could wind up on ABC sometime next season as well. Wouldnt bet against the guy that gave us House. Like that hit, this also stars a British actor mostly known for comedy, Steve Coogan. It has a great supporting cast that also includes Carla Gugino. Logline almost sounds a bit like House but as a lawyer. Tue at 10, a slot with no big hit currently, would be a good place to launch an adult legal drama, should it turn out well.

Wednesday’s staples The Middle and Modern Family remain. ABC is likely encouraged by week 3 of How To Live With Your Parents For The Rest of Your Life. It held 100 percent of The Modern Family rerun at a 2.0 which is better than other shows have done there. It follows another rerun next week and that will be a real test, but it’s encouraging thus far. What’s more encouraging is that it held almost of all the total viewers at over 6 million, something no post MF show has come close to doing (shows like Happy Endings and Apt 23 were clearly younger skewing and less broad appealing than MF. How To Live seems like a better fit). If it holds on another week, I’m inclined to say ABC should return it as is in the fall and give it more time to grow. If ABCs comedy development is good, they might be tempted to move it to 8:30 and give a new comedy the post MF lead, aka the best shot at success. But Suburgatory did far worse this year than last when it launched at 8:30, and it might be best for ABC to remain as stable as they can on this night.

Speaking of Suburgatory, I really (maybe naively) expected the season finale to perform better this week. They promoted it well. But the first half was a 1.5, and the second was still under 6 million and 1.7. It will grow .6 in DVR and I don’t doubt ABC will renew it, but it wouldn’t be crazy for ABC to try to launch a new comedy here next fall. I think ABC could hold Suburgatory for midseason or possibly add it to a Friday comedy lineup which may seem like a downgrade move to some, but Last Man Standing has performed almost as well there this March as it did on Tue last year.

One thing that comes to mind is that How To Live is a more traditional family comedy, like Modern Family is which maybe why its holding more of Modern for now. Suburgatory while terrific, is a little left of center.

ABC has a few family comedies in development that sound like could fit in nicely on Wed.

Trophy Wife – Malin Ackerman is Bradley Whitford 3rd wife and inherits his kids and 2 ex wives played by Marcia Gay Harden and Michael Watkins

The Goldbergs (previously How The Hell Am I Normal) – Adam Goldberg’s seemingly autobiographical  80s set sitcom with sitcom vets Jeff Garlin, George Segal and Wendy McLendon-Covey.

Adopted – Andrea Abbate’s autobiographical comedy about a unique blended family starring Kelly Preston.

Based on loglines, these 3 sound like they would fit in perfectly to ABC comedy Wednesday and are populated with recognizable stars. I would imagine the one that came out the best will join ABC Wednesday in the fall. If you believe advance buzz The Cullen Brothers baseball/family themed comedy starring James Caan is “hot” at the network. I guess it could fit here as well.

At 10p I would slot Castle. For years ABC couldn’t get a show to work Wed at 10p. The last 2 years they finally did. I would only suggest moving Nashville to Monday if they would have assurances that their 10p Wed wouldn’t fall apart. Castle should actually fit in perfectly here. It’s a lighter procedural and will mesh with the comedies. It’s also ABC s highest rated drama in total viewers. It will likely help keep ABC closer to CSI in this slot than Nashville and ahead of Chicago Fire. Castle has been doing great for TNT and new people are discovering it. There’s more life in it. Having such a large audience at 10 could also help How To Live, or if they air a new sitcom here, since it will be sandwiched between two mainstream hits.

So Wednesday could look like this The Middle/Adopted or The Goldbergs or Trophy Wife/Modern Family/How To Live/Castle

Update 5/6/13: As I mentioned on Twitter last week, Castle has been winning 10p handily and I would totally understand ABC not wanting to relinquish that. The only possible way that I see ABC moving it is to grow Nashville out of a compatible Bachelor and for Castle to air on Wed where it would fit and do well, and even then it’s  still a risk to move a show. But that would be the only scenario where it should happen and as weeks go by, I’m less inclined and would totally understand ABC leaving the Mon and Wed 10p dramas as is.

ABC Thursday 9-11 shouldn’t no be touched. Some seem to want to suggest ABC flip Scandal & Greys. I just don’t see a need for that. Scandal is dong terrific at 10. Grey’s is still far and away ABCs biggest drama in the demo. They are a powerful tandem together and I say leave them. ABC should continue to make 8p a reality slot. If CBS moves TBBT to 9p I could see how some would see that as opportunity to strike at 8p. If they do, there might be an opportunity to try scripted drama or comedy later in the season. A lighter drama like the previously mentioned Murder in Manhattan might work here. But as this point I say they move all their promotional muscle to Tuesday and keep this a reality slot. 9-year-old Wife Swap while not setting the world on fire is doing better now than any drama has developed there recently. I believe ABC has a few new reality projects in development and I assume they have this slot in mind. Some are suggesting Shark Tank move to this slot and while it would certainly make this night even stronger, they don’t need it. They have 2 strong hours on Thu and NONE on Tue. Shark Tank is needed on Tuesday more.

(I have long thought Secret Millionaire might be a good Thu 8p option. ABC seems to have fallen out of favor with the show for some reason, but it’s worth nothing it regularly got between 9-10 million viewers when it aired for 6 weeks on Sun 2 years ago. Last year it aired on Sunday in the summer and it got a 1.5. While not great, I have long assumed it would have done better during the season like it did before. ABC never even aired the last 6 eps and that’s especially curious since Extreme Makeover:Weight Loss Edition was lower rated than SM and it is occupying Tuesdays for 15 weeks this summer I know that EM:WLE needs a year lead time to produce, but I still think there’s life in SM for ABC and wondered why they didn’t try it Thu at 8 this season. At the very least it would be pulling Wife Swap numbers which makes it a decent show to have even for a Friday show. It has the same DNA as Undercover Boss and that show is still doing well on Fri.)

Thu should be some reality project (possibly new reality) at 8, followed by Greys and Scandal

Many are saying Last Man Standing is on the bubble. How is a 7 million and a 1.5 show on Friday on the bubble? I don’t see why this isn’t kicking off Friday next year again. I seem to be in the minority that ABC should bring back Malibu Country but its worth noting that it got a 1.4 and 7 mil out of LMSs 1.6 for their finales in March. Again these are cheaper multi cams on a Friday night and ABC owns Malibu which stars much beloved Reba. With summer reruns, it’s not crazy for that show to grow. ABC only has two multi cams in development and one in particular would work well after LMS. It’s John Leguizamo’s autobiographical, King John. I’d still renew Malibu but maybe start the fall with King John or vice versa.

I think ABC brings The Neighbors back and Friday 9p is a nice place for it. Until last week I was holding out hope that Happy Endings would hold those 1s they got the week before and ABC could air it Fri at 9:30. After the results on Friday I’m assuming ABC wont renew (but hopefully USA will bring it back).

ABC could have their new TGIF they have talked about the last few years: Last Man Standing/King John or Malibu Country/The Neighbors/Suburgatory followed by 20/20. It gives ABC two nights of family comedy blocks.

I made a suggestion Sunday suggestion 6 weeks ago and I’m not deviating from it at this point. Revenge definitely slides down to 10. It’s not doing good enough business at 9p now, but it could be a strong 10p show. Like I said then, Gothica on paper sounds like a strong follow-up to Once Upon A Time with characters like Grace Van Helsing, Dorian Gray. etc and a great cast including Janet Montgomery. It’s also possible that ABC doesn’t like the finished project and while this slot tends to call for a high concept show, I wonder if something quieter like The Returned or Forever as it’s called now could work. (Seriously ABC, Betrayal, Forever, Reckless etc, these generic titles need to go). Another option might be Big Thunder but I think ABC might want to launch that midseason. They have a big high concept show with Shield and 2 of them might be a bit much. Gothica is high concept but it seems to share a lot of DNA with OUAT and that would make it smoother transition. I don’t know how ABC plans to schedule the OUAT spinoff but I imagine that doesn’t show up til midseason either way (possibly at 9p in case the new 9p show fails). Whatever new show airs Sun 9p, it should be one of ABCs strongest new dramas as this night needs a bit of juice.

So for Sunday, I’m still going with Once Upon A Time/Gothica/Revenge

Couple More tidbits:

ABC hasn’t had much luck with younger skewing comedies lately but even if Super Fun Night doesn’t come out great, they should pick it up solely for Rebel Wilson. She’s one of the hottest stars right now and many comedies find their way after a handful of eps. They would benefit having her on their network. They could potentially pair it with the unique sounding Mixology and launch them both sometime midseason.

Body of Proof is older skewing but even before DWTS, it was getting 7 million a week. Now it’s getting between 9 and 10. Like I felt about NBCs Harry’s Law last year, I just don’t know how you cancel a show with that many viewers. It shouldn’t be on their fall sked, but do they bring it back for a few eps midseason? It’s likely done and I’m not advocating it for fall. But it does give me pause.

As I noted recently, ABC needs to schedule their Sun dramas mostly uninterrupted in fall and spring, and take off Jan and Feb completely which will have big events every week. Nashville can air 9 uninterrupted eps in fall and spring and 4 in Jan and just take off the month of Feb against the Olympics.

Third time the charm? Kyle Killen’s Influence is vying for a slot on ABCs sked. He’s a great writer and his last 2 shows were unique and compelling. Does the show get a pickup and if so, is this the one that clicks?

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3 Responses to Upfront ’13 Thoughts: ABC

  1. DF says:

    Great stuff — thanks.

  2. Pingback: CBSs Potential Move Of THE BIG BANG THEORY to 9p Creates Opportunity For The Other Nets: | Random Musings from a BigTVfan

  3. Pingback: Complete Upfront ’13 Thoughts From The Big 4: | Random Musings from a BigTVfan

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