ABC Pushes Scripted Originals to October and November

Grey's Anatomy - Publicity Still - H 2020
ABC

The Disney-backed network has unveiled return dates for all of its unscripted series, with additional details still to be announced.

The pandemic has derailed ABC's May plan to launch its fall season with a cascading number of scripted and unscripted originals.

The network on Thursday revealed premiere dates for its unscripted fare for the 202-21 season, slotting Press Your Luckfor where the 17th season of Grey's Anatomy was to have been. Whereas ABC had planned to have three hours of scripted dramas on Thursday, new seasons of Celebrity Family Feud, Press Your Luck and Match Game will instead fill in for Station 19, Grey's Anatomy and A Million Little Things, respectively. The same strategy is in play on Sundays, with Card Sharks filling the void of Nathan Fillion cop drama The Rookie.

Sources say the network's scripted fare could return to the schedule as soon as October with the majority likely back in November, though which shows remains unclear. ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke told The Hollywood Reporter in June that she'd hoped her schedule would return in "sliding" fashion, with everything back on the air in late September or early October. Additional details involving scripted returns is expected to be announced later.

"We’re fortunate to have such a strong unscripted slate to launch our first wave of programming this fall," Burke said in a statement Thursday. "Presenting the new Supermarket Sweep with Leslie Jones alongside fresh, original episodes of returning shows that viewers have come to know and love is invigorating. And with our scripted series ramping up production, we look forward to announcing more premiere dates very soon."

The September and October unscripted debuts in place of scripted fare comes as little surprise considering scripted dramas and comedies have had a more challenging road to return to production, including establishing safety protocols, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. When production on scripted fare is able to universally return, it will take considerably longer — and at a higher cost — to produce and deliver completed episodes.

New and returning scripted shows traditionally begin production after the Fourth of July holiday in order to launch new seasons during the traditional Premiere Week in the third week of September. That isn't the case this year as only a few across the dial have only recently returned to filming or pre-production. Grey's Anatomy, the first scripted series to shut down in March, has not yet resumed filming; The Goldbergs, meanwhile, recently returned to production with extensive new safeguards in place. (Star Hayley Orrantia shared a detailed look at the new protocols in a series of TikTok tours.)

ABC's announcement comes a day after CBS unveiled premiere dates for its fall schedule, with scripted eyed for a potential return in November. CBS in May had planned a similar a business as usual fall schedule. Instead, CBS — like ABC — is relying on unscripted series as well as so-called "gently used" programming that previously aired on other platforms. The latter strategy will see CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery and Spectrum's Manhunt join the fall schedule as scripted hits like NCIS and Young Sheldon are held for a later launch pending a return to production.

CBSNBC and ABC had all plotted a business as usual approach when they announced their fall schedule plans in May and June. Multiple sources at the time told THR that the strategy was designed to better position the networks with the advertising community as original programming like mega-hits Grey's Anatomy, NCIS and This Is Us are certainly more attractive than such gently used fare as Star Trek: Discovery and Manhunt. 

Meanwhile, Fox and The CW delayed the returns of their scripted originals to 2021 and debuted schedules with acquired content including programming from CBS All Access and DC Universe. "Gently used" programming — aka originals that aired on lesser-watched platforms that may not have cut through — have become increasingly valuable given the dire situation the broadcast networks find themselves in as the pandemic wiped out traditional production schedules.

Here are ABC's unscripted premiere dates. New shows are listed in bold.

Monday, Sept. 14
8 p.m.: Dancing With the Stars

Thursday, Sept. 24
8 p.m.: Celebrity Family Feud
9 p.m.: Press Your Luck
10 p.m.: Match Game

Tuesday, Oct. 13
The Bachelorette

Friday, Oct. 16
8 p.m.: Shark Tank

Sunday, Oct. 18
7 p.m.: America's Funniest Home Videos
8 p.m.: Supermarket Sweep
9 p.m.: Who Wants to be a Millionaire
10 p.m.: Card Sharks