Upfronts Analysis: ABC Fall Schedule 2009-2010


ABC Fall Schedule 2009-2010

May 19th, 2009

ABC is the one network this year whose strategy appears to be “let’s order a ridiculous number of new shows,” which is really quite interesting in this economic climate. The network isn’t in a bad position, per se, but its been through a rough development patch where this past year brought the failure of three out of four of its major sophomore series (Private Practice being the only survivor) as well as the failure of all but one of its midseason replacements (Castle being the only one who managed to pull it together, and even then only with the support of the Dancing with the Stars lead-in). Their staple shows have remained fairly strong, with Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters all remaining solid performers despite industry-wide drops in ratings, but they were in need of some new blood.

Their solution, however, is going to be a rather interesting experiment, especially when we consider the way in which the network is programming those new series, and just how many of them they have working for them: ordering a mix of legal, procedural, and science fiction dramas on top of four (count ’em) four new comedies, the network is banking on people being ready to laugh and, more importantly, to embrace shows in the 10pm timeslot with NBC out of the running.

Let’s take a gander at the highlights, shall we?

Complacency with Stock Hits

One of the interesting thing about this schedule is what isn’t moving: ABC isn’t willing to break up the successful block of Grey’s Anatomy/Private Practice or the similarly successful pairing of Desperate Housewives/Brothers & Sisters. The former is no surprise, as I think ABC is afraid of what might happen to the spinoff should it end up on its own again as it was earlier in the season, but the latter is a bit more frustrating from a creative standpoint. Brothers & Sisters has shown itself to be highly capable of holding its own, as a two-hour special event went without a lead-in and kept its numbers up, so trying it out in a 10pm slot during the week would have been a way to perhaps grow a new series out of Housewives.

The Death of Ugly Betty

That’s perhaps a more dire headline than is necessary, however it needs to be said that Ugly Betty has officially been sent to the dog house: after struggling in its timeslot to find an audience, the series has been relegated to Friday Nights at 9pm. Now, admittedly, this is not the toughest timeslot on television, and chances are that the show will skew quite differently from whatever CBS (who will win the timeslot either way) puts there, but if CBS moves over Medium as they are expected to potentially do next week once they are able to take over the option, that’s going to be a losing battle for Betty and company. Looks like it’s the show’s last season, unless it somehow blossoms leading out of Supernanny.

Flash Forward to Thursdays

There were some rumours heading into the upfront regarding the show, and now they’ve come to fruition: despite feeling like a 9pm show in some of its more elaborate thematic elements, sci-fi drama Flash Forward (starring Joseph Fiennes and our beloved Penny, Sonya Walger) slots in at 8pm, which is an interesting move for ABC in their attempt to take over the night. It’s a tougher timeslot than years previous: with Bones entrenched, and Survivor still strong, the timeslot isn’t quite as open as it might seem when you just look at NBC’s comedies. ABC clearly wants to remain dominant on Thursdays, but there’s definitely some competition for the hour and the hype machine is going to have to work full force.

The Return of the Half-Hour to ABC

After years of According to Jim clogging the airwaves and the only half-hours surviving on the network being those which aired directly after Dancing with the Stars, ABC is committing to half-hour comedy in a big way, with six comedies airing on their schedule once Dancing with the Stars is complete this fall. Scrubs and Better off Ted will slot into Tuesdays at 9pm (out of Mark Burnett’s Americanized version of Dragon’s Den, called Shark Tank, about entrepreneurs), and Wednesdays brings four new comedies.

Wednesday at 8 brings the stars of FOX’s Back to You, Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, in two separate series: Grammer stars in Hank (8pm), about an out of work titan of industry who finds a new lease on life with the family he ignored, while Heaton stars in The Middle, which follows a middle class family in middle Indiana struggling to keep their heads above water in a tough economic climate – I’m laughing already (although, to dampen my sarcasm, Scrubs’ Neil Flynn is cast as her husband, which should be fun.

Wednesdays at 9 brings two series a bit less topical in their subject matter. Modern Family is a documentary style take on the death of the nuclear family with three different family units followed in a style not too dissimilar from The Office by the sounds of things, while Cougar Town (starring Courtney Cox, and from Scrubs’ Bill Lawrence) turns out obsession with beauty and youth on its ear. We know that Cox can play cougar, having just done so on Scrubs earlier this season, but I don’t know if we’re really all that fascinated in 2009 by this phenomenon – in my books, as soon as it becomes a reality series on TV Land it’s pretty well dead pop culturally speaking.

Party like it’s 2004 – ABC Drama

In 2004, ABC entered into the fray in terms of network programming with Lost, a science fiction character drama, and Desperate Housewives, a female-driven ensemble. In 2009, meanwhile, they’re following much the same pattern, introducing both Flash Forward and V, a high-concept miniseries starring Elizabeth Mitchell, Scott Wolf and Morena Baccarin which will air at midseason, as well as Eastwick, which blends magic/witchcraft into a Housewives-esque model, and Happy Town, which evokes Housewives in its depiction of a happy neighbourhood racked with scandal.

V and Happy Town are waiting until midseason, along with legal drama The Deep End starring Matt Long and Tina Majorino (Mac!), but Eastwick slots in on the all new Wednesdays at 10pm (trying to take advantage of the likely lack of female-skewing drama in the time period, as Leno will certainly draw a more male-oriented crowd). The all-new Wednesdays didn’t work out so well two seasons ago for the network, but as long as they avoid American Idol there is every chance of being able to find some stability with a show like Eastwick, even if part of me feels as if Brothers & Sisters would work just as well on Wednesdays and Eastwick might have grown more out of Housewives considering some of their tonal similarities.

The other new drama, meanwhile, is a little bit out of place: The Forgotten joins Castle on the list of post-Dancing with the Stars procedurals, grabbing the Tuesday at 10pm slot as ABC competes with whatever CBS leads out of The Mentalist for supremacy in the timeslot. The show sounds like Women’s Murder Club combined with every John Doe investigation on every crime procedural, stars Reiko Aylesworth (24, Lost…speaking of which, where did she go on Lost), and is the one piece in the lineup and feels as if it lacks any merit whatsoever – sure, Eastwick and Happy Town could end up being pretty so-so, but the latter has Amy Acker and the former sounds unique enough to potentially spark something for the network within its key demo of women 18-49, and the sci-fi dramas could potentially help the network out on grabbing some men as well.

I’ll probably end up highlighting my “favourite” shows later in the week, and link to some video clips and images at that point, but in the meantime just a few quick notes from people’s twitter feeds regarding the various news beats:

  • sepinwall MacPherson says “V” pick-up doesn’t mean Elizabeth Mitchell is automatically gone from “Lost,” and she may be on both for a while.
  • HitFixDaniel “Cupid” isn’t coming back, but “Surviving Suburbia” has an option through September.
  • HitFixDaniel: “Flash Forward” has an extensive multi-season arc and they’ve pitched McPherson on the last scene of Season One.
  • HitFixDaniel“Cougar Town” is “zeitgeist-y.” It’s not just a comedy about prowling older women. It’s an IMPORTANT show about prowling older women.
  • (Yes, Fienberg is winning the live Twitter battle, no question about it).

ABC 2009-2010 Fall Schedule

MONDAY: 8:00 p.m. “Dancing with the Stars” (two-hours)
10:00 p.m. “Castle”

TUESDAY: 8:00 p.m. “Shark Tank”
9:00 p.m. “Dancing with the Stars the Results Show”
10:00 p.m. “The Forgotten”

WEDNESDAY: 8:00 p.m. “Hank”
8:30 p.m. “The Middle”
9:00 p.m. “Modern Family”
9:30 p.m. “Cougar Town”
10:00 p.m. “Eastwick”

THURSDAY: 8:00 p.m. “Flash Forward”
9:00 p.m. “Grey’s Anatomy”
10:00 p.m. “Private Practice”

FRIDAY: 8:00 p.m. “Supernanny”
9:00 p.m. “Ugly Betty”
10:00 p.m. “20/20”

SATURDAY: 8:00 p.m. “Saturday Night College Football”

SUNDAY: 7:00 p.m. “America’s Funniest Home Videos”
8:00 p.m. “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”
9:00 p.m. “Desperate Housewives”
10:00 p.m. “Brothers & Sisters”


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