Tuesday, May 16, 2017

ABC Schedule Analysis for 2017-18 Season

Earlier today, ABC unveiled its schedule for the upcoming 2017-18 season and then promoted the lineup to advertisers. But right now, I'm taking a closer look at the network's scheduling plans and analyzing what is likely to work and what might fail.

ABC's schedule for the 2017-18 season can be found here.
Trailers for the new shows can be found here.

ABC went into today's scheduling announcement once again as the Number 4 broadcast network. It has a number of key problems right now. It still has strong hits. But those hits are fading fast - and the new dramas and comedies haven't broken out in a big way as of late. Of course, the comedy brand overall is strong with its focus on families while Thursday night is successful because of the Shondaland dramas. But ABC's brand identity outside of those details is less clear. The network also spent more money this development season than any other network. It produced 24 pilots. And then, it landed a couple of big returns in American Idol and Roseanne. That news is huge and creates a problem for the network at midseason. It also meant the urgency to fill the problem areas with new shows wasn't as great. So a lot of pilots were ultimately passed over. The network still ordered a lot. Some look promising and different as well. It's a little obvious that the network is just trying a bunch of random things to see what sticks. So, there's the new Shondaland show, a workplace comedy and a few dramas that felt like they came from a decade ago. But overall, the schedule for the fall makes some sense even though it has a number of big risks to go along with it.

I first want to talk about comedies. Like I've said, ABC has a strong comedy identity. It's forged a number of great shows out of the family comedy genre. It's focused on families that really haven't been seen on television a whole lot. That has led to shows that feel familiar while also being different in some key and funny ways as well. The brand is so successful that it covers four hours on the schedule. The network has two 2-hour comedy blocks - one on Tuesday and Wednesday. It has big hits on both. However, they are being reshuffled around in the fall as well. The precise order is a little puzzling. The post-Modern Family slot used to be very coveted amongst the new comedies ordered to series. Not many actually worked in the slot until black-ish. And thus, it stayed there for three seasons because it was successful. And now, the network finally feels confident to move black-ish to the Tuesday lineup - and perhaps anchor it in the same way that Modern Family does on Wednesday. And yet, it's replacement following Modern Family isn't the buzziest new comedy. Instead, it's the second season of American Housewife. That's a vote of confidence for that show. But it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The only new comedy ABC is launching in the fall is The Mayor. In trailer form, it looks great and it's easy to understand why it's being paired with black-ish. But Modern Family may only have two seasons left. Should one of those be wasted on a second season show that may not be able to build any more buzz than it already has?

Elsewhere, ABC already had one of the buzziest new shows before pilot season even started in the latest Marvel drama The Inhumans. A big deal was made about it being the first television show to be shot on IMAX cameras and have a two-week theatrical run before it debuts on the network. And ABC decides to follow all of that up with a Friday time slot? I know that Friday isn't the dumping ground it used to be. For years, it was the night the networks would slot shows that were successful enough to make it to syndication but couldn't build buzz for other shows on other nights. That may still be the case for some other networks. It also feels like the rationalization for the move of Once Upon a Time and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the night. They can no longer anchor Sundays and Tuesdays and this move is the only place where they won't do much damage. But placing The Inhumans here would seem to suggest ABC wants its breakout hit to redefine the night. If that happens, it would be great. But slotting it on Friday could make it destined to fail as well. Friday is what it is for a reason. If The Inhumans fails, then it could be written off as a limited series. But expectations were different for it before the announcement this morning.

With Once Upon a Time leaving Sundays, that also creates an opening for ABC to do something completely different on the night. Sundays and Fridays are where the big moves are on this schedule. It's surprising that it took ABC nine seasons to move Shark Tank to a different time slot. It worked exactly where it was. It's a solid hit. And now, it's going on one of the most competitive nights of the year. In the fall, Sundays are largely about cable and football. This new lineup seems to reflect that. ABC isn't making any bold moves with the night. It's simply just slotting reality shows that it likes and pull in decent ratings. Of course, the night isn't completely full of reality competitions. The 10 o'clock hour is still scripted with Kyra Sedgwick's return to television in Ten Days in the Valley. That drama had a lot of buzz too because it was ordered straight-to-series. And now, expectations are lower. Shark Tank has never had to be a lead-in before. It's always been followed by 20/20. So again, all of this just feels like the network just bidding time until it can try something completely new at midseason. That may include the return of American Idol and one of its buzzy new dramas. Right now, that's just speculation though.

It does seem like the network is keeping a lot of its biggest swings for midseason as well. That continues to be a trend of this year's upfronts. NBC and FOX aren't debuting a lot of new shows in the fall. ABC is introducing more because it has to. It needs Ten Days in the Valley, The Good Doctor and The Gospel of Kevin in the 10 o'clock spots. But this schedule doesn't provide much comfort or clarity about what will happen at midseason. That's a trend this year as well. The networks are largely focusing on the fall and leaving the midseason plans for the future. They are all saving some potentially big hits for later on in the season. But things may be a little too crowded at ABC. So, it wouldn't be surprising to see some shorter runs on these series or time slot sharing amongst some of the returning hits. Plus, the network still has to decide how many episodes should be in Scandal's final season. It's back in the fall. But if it's a limited run, it could create an open spot on Thursdays - alongside How to Get Away With Murder's annual opening as well. So, that's an option for experimentation as well. That's what will define this season for ABC. Some may work and some won't. Only time will tell at this point if the nostalgia for the past is really as hot as it seems.