ABC: What to Expect at the Upfront

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THR analyzes which series are likely to return in the fall, the new pilots generating heat, and what the ad buyers are whispering.

As the upfronts loom ever closer (starting Monday in New York) and the broadcast networks salivate in anticipation of an improved ad market, THR is running a network-by-network breakdown--updating the news as it breaks. As always, nothing is set until the networks unveil their schedules and really, not even then.  

May 17
4 P.M.
Avery Fisher Hall

Despite new leadership, ABC will again trot out Jimmy Kimmel to steal the show with his biting commentary. The cast of Modern Family is among the talent expected to journey east for (another) meet and greet. But don’t expect first-timer Paul Lee to dance with the stars the way his predecessor Steve McPherson once did.

ABC heads into the fall with a lot of holes to fill, thanks to a forgettable season of newcomers including My Generation, The Whole Truth and Shonda Rhimes’ midseason offering Off the Map, which is likely off ABC’s map for next season. The exception: spring drama Body of Proof, which is poised to return for a second season. ABC is still dependent on aging dramas Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, 20th TV comedy Modern Family and reality franchise Dancing With the Stars. The net is down another 11 percent year-over-year in the advertiser-beloved 18 to 49 demographic, in third place behind Fox and CBS.

ABC executives have put significant development dollars into comedy and are banking that Home Improvement’s Tim Allen can make a triumphant — or at least respectable — return to the network with his untitled comedy pilot. Buyers tell THR that they were impressed by Lee’s track record at ABC Family, where he forged a cohesive brand identity for the net, and are looking for at least one breakout hit from him on his first development cycle as head of ABC. One question: How much rope is Disney’s Anne Sweeney allowing him?

Expect ABC to launch a second night of comedy on Tuesdays, possibly kicking off at 8 p.m. with Allen’s sitcom. The longer-term plan is believed to include adding lower-cost comedies (think $900,000 to $1 million per episode) made in-house as part of a throwback to the old TGIF block. Apartment 23 is said to be a sure thing, with Jenna Elfman’s Bad Mom, family comedy Smothered and suburban laugher Suburgatory. On the drama side, Charlie’s Angels and the yet-to-be-renamed Good Christian Bitches are said to be locks. Sources say Brothers and Sisters will likely call it quits after one last truncated season, and others suggest that Once Upon a Time, Pan Am, The River, Identity, Poe and Rhimes’ Scandal are still in play. If the dance-themed drama Grace swings a pickup, it will only be to pair with Dancing With the Stars.

Send upfront tips to Lacey.Rose@thr.comand