Upfront Analysis: ABC

Another great season for the Disney network. Oh, wait. Check that.
Yes, we're all disappointed in the DWTS performance of late.

ABC is one of those networks you look at and think, "Hey, they’re doing great." Lots of people talking about their shows, old and new. Then the ratings rise up to disappoint.

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It’s hard to get excited about being the third-place network, especially when NBC contends that it will be in a photo finish with you for third. Nobody wants to be in a photo finish with NBC for anything these days. How could this be, with such a strong Wednesday lineup (Modern Family mania!), surprise freshman hits Revenge, Once Upon a Time, Suburgatory and Don’t Trust the B---- in Apt. 23? ABC still has reality franchises such as Dancing With the Stars and The Bachelor, and it loves its female-friendly shows like Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy and Castle.

So how does this compute?

Well, if you look closer, you can see the cracks -– in the faces of its aging shows and franchise reality series. Housewives was well past its sell-by date. Grey’s and Private Practice could use a nip-tuck, and The Bachelor is downright sketchy. Not done, mind you, but viewers might want Something Else. That appears to be especially true of DWTS, which seemed to sag. Maybe the audience is demanding a singing show?

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Elsewhere, the replacements just didn’t work. An over-the-top pilot probably doomed GCB as the ideal Housewives replacement. Pan Am was grounded after all that pilot hype. Man Up! and Work It were comedy disasters. The River was a bold experiment that ended up as shaky as its camerawork. Body of Proof couldn’t hold its own. The network wouldn’t admit that it had a show called Cougar Town. Charlie’s Angels was a crime against acting. Late addition Missing didn’t find its audience, and even though Scandal probably should have gone missing as well, it got a reprieve. You can’t cancel everything.

Hell, wife swapping went out of fashion, newsmagazines sagged, the wipeouts weren’t as big as the past. So ABC became this weird combination of high-profile shows and flabby, forgotten shows. Thus -- third place.

To fix it, ABC is adding 10 new series in its yearly shotgun blast of hope, shifting Revenge to the Sunday Housewives slot and pairing two of its most acclaimed comedies -- Happy Endings and Apartment 23 -- on Tuesday nights, which, post-DWTS in January, will be a four-sitcom block. By November, the network essentially will have relaunched the TGIF idea with four allegedly family-friendly choices.

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Will that be enough?

Well, you might have noticed that DWTS stayed alive (because it had to and ABC is praying for a comeback), The Bachelor limps or ages onward, there isn’t a singing show that everybody seems to want, Private Practice got moved to Tuesday all by its lonesome (following two cynical comedies), the newsmagazines remain, and there’s more than a little hope in the air that Revenge can work on Sundays and Apt. 23 can work without its Modern Family lead-in.

If nothing else, the 2012-13 schedule seems to make clear precisely how things went wrong in 2011-12. That’s not saying NBC will surpass ABC and dump it into fourth. It’s just that as a variable, the process is a lot clearer now.

ABC did unveil a new slogan: “Why just watch when you can feel.”

Oh, dear.

Based on being No. 3, perhaps it should have been “Feel us up,” but that might have sent the wrong message. Although what the new message is, who knows -- or feels?

Come next season, ABC needs to figure out why everyone thinks the network is doing better than it really is. And then the hard part: actually be better. 

Email: Tim.Goodmand@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine


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