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MAY
17
3 YEARS

ABC's Fall Schedule Is Escapist Entertainment Explosion

Big tent plans to keep women, lure more men means no sharp edges.

Revenge
Jim Bridges/ABC

The difficult part of wanting really talented television executives with great vision, refined taste and moxie to succeed in this business is that, if they do, they will eventually run a broadcast network.

For a critic, that's kind of the end of the dream. Programming for the masses means that, inevitably, a network president must put on all kinds of shows he or she might not like personally but could very well be a massive hit, which in turn prints money for the company and keeps them in their jobs a while longer. Those are not objectives critics care that much about, ultimately, though I still find it impressive when these folks figure out how to drive the giant network machinery and  periodically put out a few shows that are of the highest quality.

Way back when ABC entertainment president Paul Lee was launching BBC America on these shores, you could tell immediately he was someone to keep an eye on. (Beyond that, he's also very candid, funny and smart about the realities of the world around him). He was somebody I immediately liked (and who predicted a number of trends in programming that would soon hit the States). Now he's running ABC and is at the helm of his first big development slate -- a whopping 13 shows. And most of them have landed in that big tent soft spot of appealing to ABC's core audience -- women -- while also trying to lure in men (with shows titled Last Man Standing and Man Up, in case the audience had a hard time picking up the directional shift). Not to rush to judgment -- plenty of time for that -- but this appears to be my exit.

Good luck, Paul. Call me when the work day is over so we don't have to talk shop.

Of course, Lee joins ranks with three other network entertainment presidents I really like. Bob Greenblatt over at NBC, who arrived after a very impressive run at Showtime. Kevin Reilly at Fox, who not only did great work at FX but had one of the few watchable tenures at NBC and ended up surviving (and thriving) after working with Jeff Zucker. And Nina Tassler at CBS, who runs one of the most thriving, efficiently run network machines ever and is nowhere near as staid and boring as that sounds.

Four smart and talented people who run networks with a lot of mediocre crap on them.

Ah, the business of television. Which brings us to ABC's schedule which Lee called "a balance between comfort and escapism," which sounds roughly like 80 percent of the stuff I don't put on the DVR.

Also, 13 new shows is beyond adventurous and daring (and costly). So we'll see how that goes as ABC tries to avoid any lags in programming. Ignoring as we do the midseason (plenty of time to talk about that later, and who knows if some of the shows will ever appear - though returning series like Cougar Town certainly will), let's move on to the fall schedule:

Monday: Dancing With the Stars takes up the first two hours of real estate and Castle closes the night at 10 p.m. That was easy - and stable.  

Tuesday: Comedies Last Man Standing (with Tim Allen) and Man Up take up the 8 to 9 p.m. block, followed by the Dancing With the Stars results show until 10 p.m., followed by Body Of Proof with Dana Delany proving it and then some. The first two shows are meant to lure in men. So watch out for that anvil. This night could go either way and you certainly can't count out Allen.

Wednesday: If Tuesday was an attempt, like other networks are doing, at having a second night of sitcoms, then Wednesday is what allowed all the branching out. The Middle, which is vastly under-appreciated, kicks off at 8 p.m., followed by newbie Suburgatory, then kingpin Modern Family at 9 p.m., Happy Endings (vastly over-rated) at 9:30 p.m. and drama Revenge -- a soap set in the Hamptons (which is not exactly Off the Map) -- at 10 p.m. Certainly a more risky strategy here, despite the thematic connection between the first two and then second two comedies. If the freshman sitcoms fail, look out below and so long Revenge.

Thursday: Now this I like, even if I'm highly unlikely to watch. The "pure candy" of remade drama Charlie's Angels leads into Grey's Anatomy at 9 p.m. and Private Practice at 10 p.m. It's an estrogen nuke that counters very well.

Friday: An unscripted night as Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition moves here at 8 p.m., followed by Shark Tank at 9 and 20/20 at 10 p.m. Not a genre show in the mix, which could be wise. Nor a script in sight, which might not be wise.

Saturday: College football.

Sunday: America's Funniest Home Videos (who watches this?) starts it off at 7 p.m. and then look out: New fantasy drama Once Upon A Time gets the 8 p.m. slot, followed by Desperate Housewives at 9 and Pan Am at 10 p.m., as the networks try to buy into that Mad Men allure, only this time with viewers.

Noticeably absent from this schedule is anything likely to make you wince (intentionally) or endure bleakness for the sake of dramatic quality. This is, as billed, escapist entertainment. Could be a market for that. I'm not counting on being enraptured by any of it, but I sure do wish Paul Lee well as he steps into the big tent.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine.