TV Upfronts: ABC's Fall Schedule Spreads Disney Branding Across the Week (Analysis)
Finding success with "Once Upon a Time," the Mouse's broadcast network puts a spinoff in the troubled Thursday slot and shakes up Tuesday with Marvel launch "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." -- all while pulling back on a former reality juggernaut.
Two of ABC's surest bets for the new season, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Once Upon a Time spinoff Wonderland, are set to launch in two of the network's more troubling time slots this fall.
The network, which announced its full schedule on Tuesday morning, is making a big push with Walt Disney Company characters and properties after the success of Sunday flagship Once Upon a Time -- and spacing them out across the week is no coincidence.
S.H.I.E.L.D., from Avengers director Joss Whedon, enters an hour that hasn't seen a scripted outing in many moons. Rotating between Dancing With the Stars results and clip shows, as well as recent unscripted efforts Splash and The Taste, 8 p.m. Tuesday has not offered a decent springboard for the 9 p.m. hour in some time -- essentially dooming last season's initial stab at a comedy block with Happy Endings and Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23 before it even premiered.
Overwhelming interest in S.H.I.E.L.D., Disney's first play at extending the Marvel brand into TV since acquiring it last year, all but guarantees decent returns at 8 p.m. -- and a solid lead for the network's latest attempt at Tuesday comedies with freshman The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife. The duo will still have Fox comedies to contend with, and a NBC sitcom block in the spring, but they are hardly the sacrificial lambs of last season. And new drama Lucky 7 should be much better served by them than Private Practice or Body of Proof were this last year.
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland's entry on Thursdays at 8 p.m. seems like another wise move, though the network certainly considered pairing it up with its parent series on Sunday night. ABC hasn't had a winner at 8 p.m. on Thursday since well before the writers' strike, most recently failing with Zero Hour, Last Resort, Charlie's Angels, Missing, My Generation and FlashForward. It's a missing piece to an otherwise solid night that continues to see a solid performer at 9 p.m. in Grey's Anatomy and a robust newcomer in Scandal. Shonda Rhimes' D.C. soap continues to climb after a solid midseason launch in 2012, recently hitting another series high.
Many of these dramas will also shift to a model more familiar to cable series and. 24-episode seasons of series including Once Upon a Time and Grey’s Anatomy will be split into two uninterrupted batches of 12 episodes, airing during either half of the season. Entertainment Group president Paul Lee noted Tuesday that limited series will fill the gaps. ABC will not be the first broadcast network try this model. NBC did so to some success with freshman drama Revolution, and Fox saw success in airing its entire order of The Following uninterrupted.
For the past three seasons, the decision of which comedic offering would score the coveted post-Modern Family time slot has been one of ABC's most-watched. This year's winner, Rebel Wilson's Super Fun Night, follows a season that saw Suburgatory air in the half-hour more often than not. And while 9:30 p.m.'s track record as a launch pad leaves a lot to be desired -- former occupants Happy Endings, Apt. 23 and How to Live With Your Parents are all gone -- it is still a showing of strong approval from the network.
As for Neighbors, the broad family comedy that briefly reaped the benefits of a Modern Family lead at the start of last season, ABC is moving it to the revived TGIF hour on Fridays. Partnering it with Tim Allen's Last Man Standing was an expected move after the bubble series about suburban aliens was given a slightly surprising renewal. (The rest of Friday, the solid combination of Shark Tank and 20/20, remains unchanged).
Sunday's 10 p.m. hour has been another troubling one for ABC. It hasn't seen a series air there for more than a few months since Brothers and Sisters shuffled off in 2011. Freshman drama Betrayal gets the lead-in from Revenge, though the latter half of the recent season proved that to be less and less of a blessing. The third season of the former darling could still pull a ratings and critical revival when incoming showrunner Sunil Nayar fills the shoes of the departing Mike Kelley.
All that leaves is one of the softer bombshells of scheduling announcement. ABC has acknowledged that Dancing With the Stars' best days are behind it. The series has occupied three hours of the network's schedule for the majority of the bulk of the last eight years, with new cycles airing in the fall and spring. Consistent ratings declines for the past four cycles led to series lows this past month, and while the decision to cancel the Tuesday results show is a wise move, it was hardly a given.
The move could slow Dancing With the Stars' ratings hemorrhage -- or, at the very least, make it less noticeable.