After having a wildly successful fall, in which the network finally solved its 10 p.m. Wednesday problem, came up with the season’s number one new drama (and a total self-starter at that), saw its top comedy continue to grow, saw its top drama manage to hold on among younger audiences, and finally closed up a pesky gap in its comedy bloc, ABC finds itself in a desperate race for third place among 18-49-year-old viewers against NBC, the network that continues to be the butt of everybody’s jokes because c’mon! NBC! Granted, NBC is only doing so well because of an incredibly rated Super Bowl, while ABC went to all the trouble of a well-thought-out schedule that’s not just the half-mad ramblings of a 19th century sociopath, but that doesn’t matter. It’s still NBC. If ABC loses, it’s totally gonna be pissed.
The problem stems from the fact that while ABC has the top comedy and drama among younger folk, its signature reality franchise, Dancing With The Stars, was always old-skewing and just continues to get older. Plus, its overall viewership is starting to soften, a worrisome trend that applies to every reality competition series about equally and is also being completely ignored by every network, because if it meant anything other than a one-time trend, that would mean it was time to start panicking.
As such, the network had a schedule that wasn’t half bad, but it was forced to come up with one that tries a number of surprisingly bold moves for the usually risk-averse network. (It is, after all, the network that completely squandered several years’ worth of strong lead-ins from Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy to play things safe.) If they pay off, ABC could rise up in the rankings and maybe challenge for second if either Fox or CBS falters. If they don’t, maybe NBC stumbles on past, gibbering about how ants control your thoughts all the while, and ABC gets stuck in a rut where it has many of TV’s top shows, then just a bunch of stuff nobody wants to watch.
Here’s the schedule. New shows are in bold. Night-by-night analysis follows afterward.
8 p.m.: Dancing With The Stars (performance)
10 p.m.: Castle
Mondays in January
8 p.m.: The Bachelor
10 p.m.: Castle
Tuesdays in January
8 p.m.: How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life)
8:30 p.m.: The Family Tools
9-11 p.m.: Same as fall
8 p.m.: Last Resort
9 p.m.: Grey's Anatomy
10 p.m.: Scandal
8 p.m.: Shark Tank
9 p.m.: Primetime: What Would You Do?
10 p.m.: 20/20
Fridays in November
8 p.m.: Last Man Standing
8:30 p.m.: Malibu Country
9 p.m.: Shark Tank
10 p.m.: 20/20
8 p.m.: Saturday Night College Football
Currently unscheduled: Body Of Proof, Mistresses, Red Widow, Wife Swap, Zero Hour
This is the one night ABC hasn’t done anything significant to. Indeed, it seems like the network is intent on riding the Dancing With The Stars-into-Castle horse into the ground on this particular night. At midseason, The Bachelor arrives to sink its talons into the hearts of those who still believe in love, but there’s good ol’, reliable Castle at 10, squinting and snarking away. Incidentally, if you had told us 10 years ago that Nathan Fillion would someday be making a name for himself in a weird combination of Moonlighting and The Father Dowling Mysteries, we’d have been skeptical. But here we are.
ABC has been talking about wanting to do a younger, hipper comedy bloc, and while that makes a certain degree of sense (if only so it could get shows like Happy Endings, Apartment 23, and the now-saying-“See-ya-suckers!”-on-TBS Cougar Town out of an incompatible family comedy bloc), none of those shows are ratings winners on their own. Nonetheless, ABC is determined to try, and it’s determined to give them a lead-in from… Dancing With The Stars, which skews old, has never proved itself capable of launching a comedy (or non-Castle drama), and didn’t even have a terribly well-rated results show when it was one of the biggest shows on TV. We’d love to see this work—it’d be great if Happy Endings and Apartment 23 could set up a foothold of their very own—but it’s hard to see the logic in it, other than the network hoping things go just right. (Also problematic: Sending DWTS directly against The Voice and NCIS and Happy Endings against New Girl and the new Matthew Perry show.) The night closes out with Private Practice because things are schizophrenic enough already, so why not.
Then there’s even more wackiness in January! ABC had a dominant comedy bloc on Tuesdays for much of the ‘80s and ‘90s, so it’s easy to see why the network would like to return to those days. Thus, a four-hour comedy bloc makes a certain amount of perverse sense, but sending it up against the Fox bloc, which is marginally stronger, seems like a stretch. On the other hand, the network has introduced punctuation to the title for How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life) and given The Family Tools a name that’s a pun about nuts, so it’s clearly doing something right. All of these are big moves, and if they pay off, ABC will be doing quite well for itself. If they don’t, though, there’s no safety net anywhere on the night. It’s a leap out over the abyss, and one that we hope pays off for Happy Endings’ sake.
The first hour-and-a-half here is the most stable portion of the network’s lineup (and should be). The Middle-into-Suburgatory-into-Modern Family is built perfectly, so each show nicely builds into the next, and the audience doesn’t feel too battered around. It’s no wonder those three shows have been so successful in the ratings. In terms of tonal consistency, audience retention, and sheer invitation to just sit on the couch and keep watching TV, this is the best built bloc on TV. (Again, compare to the NBC Thursday bloc, which is full of good shows but seems jumbled about by a madman.)
The problem has always been at 9:30, where the network kept trying younger-skewing cult shows, but could never get any of them to really catch on. So it’s sent all of those away and is trying a show about aliens. Because every sitcom about aliens starts with huge ratings in its first season, then sinks gradually (or dramatically, in the case of former ABC alien sitcom Mork & Mindy) through the rest of its run. (The exception: ALF. But ALF is the exception to so many things in life.) It’s hard to see The Neighbors being the long-term solution ABC would want here, but this is the prime time to get America to watch weird shit after Modern Family, and it’s nice to see the network isn’t wasting it.
The night closes out with Nashville, showing that the network has learned from Revenge that people will watch a soap on the night but don’t want one that’s too complicated. Plus, the country singing should provide a nice counterpoint to the gloomy crime-solving on CBS and the, uh, fires on NBC. (“Burn, burn!” says NBC, stroking its beard.) We wouldn’t be surprised if this one took off here. Hooray, Connie Britton!
Grey’s Anatomy is still the top drama among viewers under 50—we know, but ER hung on for a surprisingly long time, too—so it’s going to stay put, even if it’s looking a little ragged around the edges. The network is smartly using it to continue to build the promising-looking (from a ratings standpoint, if not quite a creative one) Scandal, rather than forcing Private Practice back into the hour. It’s another bold move that won’t get credit for being one because it looks the same as what’s on right now. The night opens up with the highly anticipated Last Resort, that submarine drama starring Andre Braugher from Shawn Ryan. We can sympathize that the network wants to appeal to men, but has no natural place to put anything appealing to men, but the last time ABC tried a highly anticipated speculative fiction drama here, we got FlashForward. Let’s hope nobody’s loaded this time.
ABC’s weird reality triumvirate is doing really, really well right now on this night, to the point where Shark Tank sometimes wins the night in the demo. It’s the perfect example of a network sticking with a night of programming until it catches on, and we just wish the show being stuck with wasn’t friggin’ Shark Tank. (We love Shark Tank, but it’s pretty far down the priority list.)
At the same time, ABC is nostalgic for the days when Roseanne and Tim Allen ruled the roost and when TGIF was the only name in kids primetime broadcasting. It couldn’t get the new Roseanne sitcom (which was awful enough for NBC to completely pass on it), so it’s doing the next best thing and grabbing Reba McEntire’s new sitcom, pairing it with Last Man Standing, and putting both on Fridays, so it has half a TGIF bloc, and you can chuckle to yourself and tell your kids about how when you were a kid, there was a wonderful imp named Urkel, and he delighted many a child looking for something to do on Friday nights. And then they’ll turn back to Tim Allen ranting about womenfolk these days or a teenage girl in a Garfield head, and you’ll shed a single tear. ABC’s desire to bring back TGIF is weird, given the bloc’s ignominious end, but we guess there are worse ideas than cheap sitcoms on this night, and assuming Community makes it to November in this timeslot, we’d love to watch its rabid fans seethe angrily at Reba McEntire. So we’re in favor.
Oh, here’s the programming on the network that appeals to men, but we’re guessing ABC won’t be pairing its expensive submarine drama with college football any time soon (nor should it). Presumably, the night will revert to reruns of other ABC programming come midseason, but maybe ABC has other plans, a stockpile of cheap movies, or a secret desire to re-launch Sabado Gigante. Until a plan is officially announced, we can dream big!
Here’s the riskiest move of the whole schedule (and arguably any schedule), and if it pays off, the network will be in great shape. That move, of course, is the renewal of America’s Funniest Home Videos, which just gets bigger and bigger! (Seriously, when that show launched, it was the fifth-biggest show on TV for that season. Other fun facts: It and The Simpsons both launched on the same night, and they’ve been running ever since.)
It may not seem like it now, but the loss of Desperate Housewives was a big deal for the network. It was a sensation for only two seasons, really, but it was a solid ratings performer for seven out of its eight seasons, keeping the network in play on a very competitive night. It was time for the show to be done, but the network also needed to make a big move to hopefully recapture that success. Fortunately, the out-of-the-box success of Once Upon A Time (which no one saw coming) gave the network lots of breathing room, and that meant moving the buzzy Revenge here. It’s a show that’s seen a fair amount of online discussion and magazine covers, but it’s also a show that’s never been as highly rated as all that talk might make it seem. Moving it to Sundays is a vote of confidence from the network that it’s the soap of ABC’s future, but it’s also going to require the network to promote it like a new show, always a hindrance with an older program. (ABC is fond of staggering its launches throughout the fall, however, so there should be room for big promotion.) The night closes with 666 Park Avenue, which seems like a nice enough blend of the two shows preceding it.
Network press releases about its new shows follow. Come back later for trailers for each show.
Malibu Country: When Reba Gallagher (Reba McEntire) discovers that her husband, Bobby, (Jeffrey Nordling) a country music legend, has a cheatin' heart, her world is turned upside down. Reba dreamt of becoming a country star herself, but put her career on hold to raise a family. Now, she's questioning all of that, big-time. With the ink on her divorce barely dry, Reba packs up her sharp-tongued mother, Lillie May (Lily Tomlin), her two kids, and the U-Haul and heads for sunny California to begin a new chapter. Leaving Nashville in the rear view, they start over at their Malibu residence—the last remaining asset they have. Reba gets to know her new open and loving neighbor Kim (Sara Rue) and her son, Sage, but also discovers that relocation to Southern California is going to be quite an adjustment for a traditional southern belle: The West Coast seems like the polar opposite of Music City, and Reba feels like an outsider. Still, with the support of her family, she sets about finding her voice; jump-starting her music career with the help of her new music agent, Geoffrey (Jai Rodriguez); and embracing this chance to begin again.
The Neighbors: How well do you know your neighbors? Meet the Weavers, Debbie (Jami Gertz) and Marty (Lenny Venito). Marty, in hopes of providing a better life for his wife and three kids, recently bought a home in Hidden Hills, a gated New Jersey townhome community with its own golf course. Hidden Hills is so exclusive that a house hasn't come on the market in 10 years. But one finally did, and the Weavers got it! It's clear from day one that the residents of Hidden Hills are a little different. For starters, their new neighbors all have pro-athlete names like Reggie Jackson (Tim Jo), Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Toks Olagundoye), Dick Butkis (Ian Patrick) and Larry Bird (Simon Templeman). Over dinner, Marty and his family discover that their neighbors receive nourishment through their eyes by reading books, rather than eating. The Weavers soon learn that the entire community is comprised of aliens from Zabvron, where the men bear children and everyone cries green goo from their ears. The Zabvronians have been stationed on Earth for the past 10 years, disguised as humans, awaiting instructions from home, and the Weavers are the first humans they've had the opportunity to know. As it turns out, the pressures of marriage and parenthood are not exclusive to planet Earth. Two worlds will collide with hilarious consequences as everyone discovers they can totally relate and learn a lot from each other.
666 Park Avenue: At the ominous address of 666 Park Avenue, anything you desire can be yours. Everyone has needs, desires and ambition. For the residents of The Drake, these will all be met, courtesy of the building's mysterious owner, Gavin Doran (Terry O'Quinn). But every Faustian contract comes with a price. When Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor) and Henry Martin (Dave Annable), an idealistic young couple from the Midwest, are offered the opportunity to manage the historic building, they not only fall prey to the machinations of Doran and his mysterious wife, Olivia (Vanessa Williams), but unwittingly begin to experience the shadowy, supernatural forces within the building that imprison and endanger the lives of the residents inside. Sexy, seductive and inviting, The Drake maintains a dark hold over all of its residents, tempting them through their ambitions and desires, in this chilling new drama that's home to an epic struggle of good versus evil.
Last Resort: Five-hundred feet beneath the ocean's surface, the crew of the U.S. ballistic missile submarine Colorado receives its orders. Over a radio channel, designed only to be used if their homeland has been wiped out, they're told to fire nuclear weapons at Pakistan. Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher) demands confirmation of the orders, only to be unceremoniously relieved of duty by the White House. XO Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) finds himself suddenly in charge of the submarine and facing the same difficult decision. When he also refuses to fire without confirmation of the orders, the Colorado is targeted, fired upon, and hit. The submarine and its crew find themselves crippled on the ocean floor, declared rogue enemies of their own country. Now, with nowhere left to turn, Chaplin and Kendal take the sub on the run and bring the men and women of the Colorado to an exotic island. Here, they will find refuge, romance and a chance at a new life, even as they try to clear their names and get home.
Nashville: Chart-topping Rayna James (Connie Britton) is a country legend who's had a career any singer would envy, though, lately, her popularity is starting to wane. Fans still line up to get her autograph, but she's not packing the arenas like she used to. Rayna's record label thinks a concert tour, opening for up-and-comer Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), the young and sexy future of country music, is just what Rayna needs. But scheming Juliette can't wait to steal Rayna's spotlight. Sharing a stage with that disrespectful, untalented, little vixen is the last thing Rayna wants to do, which sets up a power struggle for popularity. Could the undiscovered songwriting talent of Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen) be the key to helping Rayna resurrect her career? Complicating matters, Rayna's wealthy but estranged father, Lamar Hampton (Powers Boothe), is a powerful force in business, Tennessee politics, and the lives of his two grown daughters. His drive for power results in a scheme to back Rayna's handsome husband, Teddy (Eric Close), in a run for Mayor of Nashville, against Rayna's wishes.
The Family Tools: Mixing family with business is never easy, and Jack Shea (Kyle Bornheimer) is about to learn that lesson the hard way. When Jack's father, Tony (J.K. Simmons), has a heart attack and is forced to hand over the keys to his beloved handyman business, Jack is eager to finally step up and make his father proud. Unfortunately, Jack's past career efforts have been less than stellar, so everyone seems to be waiting for him to fail. His new job isn't made any easier by Tony's rebellious, troublemaker assistant, Darren (Edi Gathegi), and Darren's flirtatious sister, Liz (Danielle Nicolet), who works at the local hardware store. Yet with the support of his Aunt Terry (Leah Remini) and his oddball yet endearing cousin Mason (Johnny Pemberton), Jack Shea may just find his true calling right at home.
How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest Of Your Life): Polly (Sarah Chalke) is a single mom who's been divorced for almost a year. The transition wasn't easy for her, especially in this economy. So, like a lot of young people living in this new reality, she and her daughter, Natalie (Rachel Eggleston), have moved back home with her eccentric parents, Elaine (Elizabeth Perkins) and Max (Brad Garrett). But Polly and her parents look at life through two different lenses. Polly's too uptight. Her parents are too laid back. Polly's conservative when it comes to dating (no action, whatsoever), while her parents are still sexually adventurous. They think Polly turned out okay, so what's the big deal? Well, they say it takes a village to raise a child… and in Polly's case, this village is on fire. But with help from her best friend Gregg (Orlando Jones), her lovable yet irresponsible ex-husband Julian (Jon Dore) and her cool and fun assistant Jenn (Rebecca Delgado Smith) Polly takes her first steps toward getting a life, starting with a social one.
Mistresses: Welcome to a provocative and thrilling drama about the scandalous lives of a sexy and sassy group of four girlfriends, each on her own path to self-discovery, as they brave the turbulent journey together. Meet Savi (Alyssa Milano), a successful career woman working toward the next phase in her life—both professional and personal—simultaneously bucking for partner at her law firm while she and her husband, Harry (Brett Tucker), try to start a family of their own. Savi's free-spirited and capricious baby sister, Josselyn (Jes Macallan), couldn't be more different, living single, serial dating and partying, and regularly leaning on her big sister along the way. Their common best friend, April (Rochelle Aytes), a recent widow and mother of two, is rebuilding her life after tragedy and learning to move forward, with the support and guidance of her closest girlfriends. And friend Karen (Yunjin Kim), a successful therapist with her own practice, reconnects with the girls after her involvement in a complicated relationship with a patient goes far too deep. Mistresses is a salacious new drama about a group of friends caught in storms of excitement and self-discovery, secrecy, and betrayal, and bound by the complex relationships they've created.
Red Widow: When Marta Walraven's (Radha Mitchell) husband is brutally murdered, her first instinct is to protect her three young children. Her husband's business partners—Irwin Petrova (Wil Traval), Marta's scheming and untrustworthy brother, and Mike Tomlin (Lee Tergesen)—were involved in an illegal drug business deal with rival gangsters, and Marta's husband paid the ultimate price. She already knows the violent world of organized crime; her father, Andrei Petrova (Rade Sherbedzija), and loyal bodyguard Luther (Luke Goss) are gangsters too. She and her sister Kat (Jaime Ray Newman) had always wished for a safer life without bloodshed and fear. For a while, Marta lived happily as a stay at home housewife in San Marta's cooperation, FBI Agent James Ramos (Mido Hamada) now promises justice. Marta discovers a tenacity she never knew she had, and takes on the gangsters and the FBI to unveil the truth about her husband's death. As she digs into this dark underworld, she'll test her own strength, relying on her resourcefulness, determination and family ties like never before. To get out of this mob, she needs to beat the bad guys at their own deadly game.
Zero Hour: As the publisher of a paranormal enthusiast magazine, Modern Skeptic, Hank Galliston has spent his career following clues, debunking myths, and solving conspiracies. A confessed paranormal junkie, his motto is logic is the compass. But when his beautiful wife, Laila (Jacinda Barrett), is abducted from her antique clock shop, Hank gets pulled into one of the most compelling mysteries in human history, stretching around the world and back centuries. Contained in one of his wife's clocks is a treasure map, and what it leads to could be cataclysmic. Now it's up to Hank to decipher the symbols and unlock the secrets of the map, while ensuring the answers don't fall into the wrong hands—a man they call White Vincent (Michael Nyqvist). With his two young associates, Rachel (Addison Timlin) and Arron (Scott Michael Foster), in tow, along with Becca Riley, a sexy FBI agent (Carmen Ejogo), Hank will lead them on a breathless race against the clock to find his wife and save humanity.