ABC took the wraps off of its 2013-14 schedule on Tuesday morning, following speculation about where the network would slot its highly anticipated television series spin-off of feature film franchise The Avengers, entitled Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Yes, there are a lot of periods there for one title.) Elsewhere, ABC announced that Rebel Wilson's sitcom Super Fun Night would get the plum post-Modern Family timeslot on Wednesdays and its upcoming spin-off of Sunday evening's successful fantasy drama Once Upon a Time, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, would be heading to Thursdays. And comedy The Neighbors, which received an eleventh hour reprieve, is now headed to Fridays.
The biggest news, however, was that Dancing With the Stars would be reduced to just one night a week.
The announcements were made by ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee, ahead of Tuesday's official upfront presentation at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. “We are taking some big swings with groundbreaking shows this season, and staying close to our roots with smart and sophisticated storytelling," said Lee in a statement. "ABC is known for its combination of innovation and stability, and our new schedule reflects that. We’re bringing back the shows that viewers have embraced and enhancing the lineup with a slate of exciting new series."
Among the new shows heading to ABC's lineup next season: Back in the Game, Betrayal, The Goldbergs, Killer Women, Lucky 7, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Mind Games, Mixology, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, Resurrection, Super Fun Night, Trophy Wife and new alternative series The Quest.
Speaking to the press ahead of Tuesday's upfront presentation, Lee said that he sees ABC as having a "smart, strong, sophisticated brand," and that the network is "starting to add some other pieces this year," including things like Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. "Our job is to be hugely inclusive. It’s a big, broad network that does overdeliver on upscale audiences… It's a smart, emotional brand."
As for the difficult decision behind cancelling comedy Happy Endings, one of Lee's personal favorites, Lee was honest about the challenges. "I do think Happy Endings is absolutely on brand… It was just too narrow. It was a very hard decision. I loved that show and found it hard to make that decision.”
Lee said that they are striving to bringing a lot of innovation to scheduling next season. "Originals are being run in batches of 12 [episodes] with a gap," explained Lee. Limited run series are being built to air in that gap in between clusters of original episodes. Reality entry The Quest will run between the two halves of Once Upon a Time.
In fact, ABC is looking to make "quality launches throughout the season away from the clutter of the fall. Resurrection is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking... I’ve left that to midseason so it could flourish away from that slugfest of September. Mind Games is also for midseason [and features] an extraordinary performance from Steve Zahn." The same will hold for Tricia Helfer-led Killer Women, a character-driven procedural that Lee described as "very romantic, very tough, irresistible."
As for the other limited run series that will bridge the halves of ABC's original dramas, Lee wouldn't comment beyond Betrayal and Resurrection (and reality entry The Quest) for now: "We’ll be announcing them a little later."
Midseason will also see the return of Suburgatory and the launch of new comedy Mixology. Lee touted the latter, which is set at a Manhattan bar: "The whole season takes place in one night. We won’t know who goes home with whom until the end of the season."
All in all, said Lee, the 2013-14 season is looking like "a pretty strong season for us."
ABC’s fall primetime schedule can be found below, along with further comments that Lee made to reporters earlier today and video trailers for the network's fall and midseason offerings:
ABC Fall 2013 Primetime Schedule
MONDAY8-10 p.m.: Dancing with the Stars10-11 p.m.: Castle
Dancing will move to one night starting next season, which will give it “a shot in the arm by giving the results during our two-hour telecast.” On the format changes being made to Dancing With the Stars, Lee wasn't particularly forthcoming about how the show would be affected by the move to reduce it to just one night a week: “I don’t want to jump the gun," he said. "Our friends over at BBC have a lot of great ideas about this" and "they’ll look at how many contestants they want to have."
Still, Lee praised the move as a smart one for repositioning the show. “We want to focus it in," said Lee. "We’re planning on doing two seasons this year… We can build a sense of occasion to that and drive viewership to Monday nights." And there will be attention paid to the casting of the show's contestants as well: “We’re going to focus on casting that is going to help us age it down.” As for whether the move means that there won't be a viewer component to the voting, Lee was coy: “It’s a possibility, definitely.”
TUESDAY8-9 p.m.: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.9-9:30 p.m.: The Goldbergs9:30-10 p.m.: Trophy Wife10-11 p.m.: Lucky 7
“We don’t normally talk about testing, but [Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.] tested so well in all four quadrants," Lee said. "Joss Whedon knows how to create great television with great relationships at the heart of it. It has relationships and humor but also the promise of the Marvel franchise… We think it’s driven by character and will bring a wider audience to us.”
As for increased competition in that timeslot, specifically that the show will go up against CBS' ratings behemoth NCIS, Lee said: "Every single hour on the schedule is up against competition. We think it’s going to recruit a whole new audience coming in [and] we think it has a built-in audience… We don’t think it has the same audience as NCIS and we have high hopes for it on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.”
Elsewhere on Tuesdays, Lee praised 1980s-set family sitcom The Goldbergs, calling it "one of the comedies of the season" (I presume he means in terms of quality rather than number) and said, "We’re going to promoting The Goldbergs because we love it." He also praised new comedy Trophy Wife as a “jewel of a show.” Ensemble drama Lucky 7 (based on British series The Syndicate) was hailed as a "four quadrant crowd-pleaser.” He added, "it's about the 99 percent, it’s aspirational… We’ve gone out of our way to make it feel really authentic."
WEDNESDAY8-8:30 p.m.: The Middle8:30-9 p.m.: Back in the Game9-9:30 p.m.: Modern Family9:30-10 p.m.: Super Fun Night10-11 p.m.: Nashville
Lee didn't speak at length about Wednesdays, other than new comedy Back in the Game offers James Caan who is "hilarious" here. Of Rebel Wilson's Super Fun Night (which had previously been set up at CBS), Lee said, "Rebel is a star on the rise. She is on fire right now." He described the show as a "really outrageous comedy." Lee also touted a "wicked second season of Nashville," which will stay put at 10 p.m. on Wednesdays.
THURSDAY8-9 p.m.: Once Upon a Time in Wonderland9-10 p.m.: Grey’s Anatomy10-11 p.m.: Scandal
Thursdays, said Lee, are all about “empowered women.”
"We’ve built a night of women’s empowerment," he told reporters. "These are beautifully made shows about women’s empowerment." He then described Once Upon a Time spin-off Once Upon a Time in Wonderland as a "fantastic reimagining from their wicked, twisted minds." He has high hopes for the franchise: “I can’t wait for you guys to see the cutdown for that one, because it’s fantastic," he said. "I love the idea of taking our strongest franchises and building out to other nights."
"We watched the pilot and we fell in love with it," he added. "The Alice casting is particularly good… I loved it on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. and was very happy to see it launch there."
Elsewhere on Thursdays, "Grey’s Anatomy doesn’t get enough credit for how well written it is in its ninth season," said Lee. As for Scandal, "we are immensely proud of it."
FRIDAY8-8:30 p.m.: Last Man Standing8:30-9 p.m. The Neighbors9-10 p.m.: Shark Tank10-11 p.m.: 20/20
Lee sees Friday evenings as a destination for co-viewing, and the ratings are up 13 percent. "Tim Allen stays at 8 and the gloriously inventive The Neighbors moves to 8:30," Lee said. "It's a great pairing." Shark Tank, meanwhile, is remaining put at 9 p.m. "Who knows why most capitalistic shows is #1 in co-viewing?"
SATURDAY8-11 p.m.: Saturday Night College Football
SUNDAY7-8 p.m.: America’s Funniest Home Videos8-9 p.m.: Once Upon a Time9-10 p.m.: Revenge10-11 p.m.: Betrayal
Lee praised ABC's Sunday night lineup as "sophisticated, sexy, emotional storytelling." As for the third season of Revenge, which has suffered both creatively and in the ratings, Lee said, “Emily is back with new malice in her heart.”
“[Revenge] is a wonderful brand for us and still has a passionate audience," he added. "They have such great focused ideas about going back to the heart of Emily’s journey… We really think it can grow next year.”
Newcomer Betrayal was presented as a "limited series" by Lee, who described it as "very sexy, very sophisticated." While it's a limited series, there is the possibility of it returning should it click with viewers: "The intention on that and we’ll see how it plays out is to do a limited series but to bring it back, to do 12 or 13 episodes this season and then 12 or 13 episodes next season… We have the ability to expand it. Focusing it on 13 episodes is going to make for better storytelling." Resurrection will take over for Betrayal in that timeslot in January; it too is being positioned as a limited-run event series.
Reactions:I'm extremely curious to see how ABC fares this season, though it's clear that they're looking to take some calculated risks and I applaud them for moving away from using a two-night Dancing With the Stars format to anchor the schedule. Instead, Tuesdays at 8 p.m., already a hotly competitive timeslot, will be the home for Joss Whedon's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which kicks off a night of all new programming, including a one-hour comedy block at 9 p.m.
While CBS may have passed on Rebel Wilson's Super Fun Night, ABC is giving the comedy the plum timeslot following Modern Family, still a very strong performer for the net. ABC is once again looking to make Thursdays a destination for women, with the Once Upon a Time spin-off and returnees Grey's Anatomy and Scandal.
While it was unclear whether ABC actually would renew The Neighbors in the end, the sitcom will return for a sophomore season on Friday nights; having said that, I liked Lee's spin about Fridays being a destination for co-viewing. Whether or not The Neighbors will sink or swim there is another matter, but I appreciate the notion that Fridays could be a place for the whole family to watch television together.
And, like Fox, ABC seems to want to play up limited event-driven programming. Here, Lee is looking to use shorter-run fare as a bridge between the two halves of 22 or 24-episode dramas. Sort of a sandwich that's filled with first-run fare rather than repeats. I'm curious to see how this plays out during the season and whether these 12 or 13-episode limited-run dramas end up returning or being done in one.