Tuesday, May 15, 2018

ABC Schedule Analysis for 2018-19 Season

Earlier today, ABC unveiled its schedule for the upcoming 2018-19 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 2018-19 season can be found here.
Trailers for the new shows can be found here.

It's weird to say that ABC is still currently in fourth place in the ratings amongst the broadcast networks. That doesn't make much sense based on the new hits they had this past season. And yet, it just offers further proof of the strength and dependency on football. ABC doesn't have those primetime professional games. Yes, they have college football and some basketball. But those aren't as reliable on Saturday nights as sports are to the rest of the broadcast networks. And so, a year in which ABC managed to produce hits in drama, comedy and reality, it is still somehow ranked fourth. That's odd. Roseanne returned to such huge numbers and currently sits as the number one show on all of television. Grey's Anatomy continues to do phenomenally well despite its age and will now hold the record for the longest-running primetime drama on ABC. The Good Doctor became a solid hit of its own. Meanwhile, American Idol didn't return to the numbers it was pulling on FOX. But it still did reasonably well to ensure that ABC was actually a force to be reckoned with on Sunday nights this spring. These are all solid tools that can be used to build growth. As such, it was important to look at this schedule to see how the network was planning on building and growing. Right now, ABC's Disney owners are operating from a position of strength. The overall media company stands to gain so much new revenue with its acquisition of FOX. It means that the shows produced by 20th Century Fox Television will actually earn profits that will stay within the rest of the corporate umbrella. As such, it may be beneficial to keep those shows around - which we can already see occurring with a couple of renewals here.

All of this makes it surprising that ABC doesn't really change or shift all that much with its fall schedule. That's most surprising with The Good Doctor. That show was a broad hit last year. It earned an early renewal which allowed the producers to lock down a number of new cast additions. At the upfronts presentation today, the executives even noted that The Good Doctor is the only show that airs in the 10 o'clock hour that is in the Top 20 shows in the ratings. That's very impressive for a time slot that has seen so much viewer erosion over the last few years. It's no longer necessary to stay up and watch those dramas live. Now, it's just so easy to record and watch it the next day. But The Good Doctor opened to a large audience and was able to sustain it. In fact, it provided a creative direction that the network wanted to play towards with its overall drama brand moving forward. It's just surprising that the network isn't using that show to launch a new drama. Scheduling still matters when it comes to making new hits. Some time all it takes is the right premise, cast or marketing. The Good Doctor succeeded in a time slot ABC was struggling with even when Castle was still on the air. Dancing With the Stars is no longer the hit it once was. It wouldn't be surprising if the show cuts it down to once a year because of the success elsewhere with the reality brand. But The Good Doctor was a consistent hit. Keeping it where it is will be beneficial to its loyal audience. It will keep it strong. It should just be intriguing to see if it stays there and if the show that replaces it in that time slot in the spring will fair better than The Crossing.

Clearly, the big news from this schedule announcement is the strength of ABC's comedy brand. The network plans on airing 10 comedies in the fall. That's impressive. No other broadcast network is doing that. ABC has the courage and lineup to schedule 5 hours of comedy a week. It works because the ABC comedy brand is so distinctive at the moment. It's the most impressive and recognizable comedy brand of any of the networks. It even surpasses CBS and their broad multi-camera sitcoms. Those have been flailing with its biggest hit of the past year being Young Sheldon - a single camera show. Also, what do you think Tim Allen's reaction was to learning that ABC was airing comedies in the 8 o'clock hour of Fridays again? Last Man Standing was cancelled because ABC had different plans for the night. Well, that was one of the factors. Ownership and the financials were also huge. And now, two more shows owned by 20th Century Fox are being slotted there - Fresh Off the Boat and Speechless. The network has done so mostly to secure those syndication numbers so that they will be profitable to the company soon owned by Disney. Meanwhile, the network is using its biggest comedies to launch its two new shows. The Kids Are Alright probably has the better chance of success off-the-bat because the numbers from Roseanne are higher and broader. Meanwhile, Single Parents simply looks better and funnier in trailer form. It should be fascinating to see what the shows are actually like. Of course, the network is potentially in an awkward position with its comedies should something fail. ABC only has one comedy slotted for midseason - The Goldbergs spinoff Schooled. Plus, Roseanne is only doing 13 episodes for its next season. So, it may be a mistake to be betting so much on comedy right now. But at least it's admirable that the network has that confidence.

Meanwhile, The Rookie and A Million Little Things are the two new dramas slotted for the fall. They both seem like ABC trying to mimic the success of past shows. The Rookie is clearly trying to chase the same broad audience as The Good Doctor. ABC wanted a version of Castle with Nathan Fillion and not Stana Katic. And now, it seems like they finally have it. It may ultimately be nothing more than an average procedural. But Fillion still has a devoted audience that is probably ready for him to be starring in a new drama on ABC. And then, A Million Little Things was clearly developed as ABC's take on NBC's This Is Us. It's fascinating that both ABC and NBC developed shows in order to appeal to that same audience. They aren't competing with each other either. NBC's The Village is being held for midseason. This Is Us is staying where it's at on Tuesday. And now, ABC has A Million Little Things on Wednesday in the hopes that it will ignite in a much more exciting way that can be sustained - unlike what ultimately became of Designated Survivor. It's also fascinating to see ABC continue its Shonda Rhimes night of programming even though the producer has moved to Netflix. The network still clearly wants to be in business with her - renewing For the People for a second season for no other reason. They are also hoping that Station 19 may blow up into a bigger success the same way that the second season of Scandal launched it into the pop culture conversation.

And finally, ABC is sticking with reality on Sunday night. That was such a massive misfire in the fall that was only remedied by the return of American Idol in the spring. And now, the network isn't even saying when the new seasons of American Idol and The Bachelor will air. It's likely they'll return to the same nights. It feels like the positions are still open for them. But that's also just boring to think about as well. ABC putting reality shows leading into a new drama on Sunday in the fall of 2017 was a decision that didn't work and annoyed Kyra Sedgwick in the process. And now, the network is hoping that a new version of Dancing With the Stars will reinvigorate the night. Yes, the industry has fallen in love with junior versions of notable reality competition shows. Today even came with the announcement that this version of Dancing With the Stars will be pre-taped. So, it won't share too many similarities outside of the title with its parent show. That's probably good. Otherwise, it would lead to the death of Dancing With the Stars much faster. It still may not be a hit. But the network is also trying something much more low cost on the night in the fall just waiting for American Idol to return. The Alec Baldwin talk show didn't make a lot of noise when it had a trial run episode after the Oscars. It still may not shake up the formula of talk shows. But it is interesting that a broadcast network is willing to put a show like that in primetime. That's notable. It just may not be a broad success. The network will need to be okay with that.