2013-14 Television Broadcast Season: ABC

So yesterday we did The Eye. Today, we’ll cover The Alphabet Soup network (ABC..cause, you know, it’s the first three letters of the alphabet? Ha.).

Besides the differences in their names, the two are essentially polar opposites of how broadcast networks are run today. While The Eye knows exactly who it is and has relatively little turnover from year to year, ABC will be debuting almost twice as many shows in the fall and has one fully new night. ABC’s Tuesday night represents as many new hours of television per week as CBS has overall.

ABC is also having some serious trouble in the development category. Looking down its schedule, it only has one of its freshmen series could even come close to being called a hit last year (Nashville). In point of fact, only Nashville and The Neighbors are returning at all (The Neighbors is holding on by its fingernails), which is half the number of programs that made it from the 2011-12 season. To those keeping score at home, that’s only 6 shows in 2 years which have taken…smaller than their 2013-14 freshmen class.

Not good, to say the least.

Franky, it doesn’t look like this year’s going to get any better for the Disney owned company, though the fact that Disney DOES own ABC is giving the net one of the buzzest shows of the season in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The idea of building a multi-platform universe in entertainment has been floated before, but none have even attempted to do it on the scale that Marvel is rolling out now. Following the success of Marvel’s Phase One films (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America and Hulk), the company (also owned by Disney) pulled it all together in 2012’s The Avengers, one of the highest grossing films of all-time, and owner of the highest opening weekend in film history (a staggering $207 million).

We’ve seen the first of Marvel’s Phase Two of The Avengers universe (represented by Iron Man 3, which got “only” $175 million its opening weekend two weeks back), but only the first. Thor: The Dark World is due out later this year (November, precisely), Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes out in April 2014 and Guardians of the Galaxy comes out in August of that year. This all is going to lead up to the second Avengers movie, which is due to be released in the US on May 1, 2015.

Side note: Since I’m talking about Marvel and I’m making them look smart, let me take a moment to say how monumentally stupid they have been handling their core Avengers cast. Rumors have run rampant the past few weeks about the hardball negotiating tactics the studio has taken with its actors, resulting in more than a few ruffled feathers. Meanwhile, Iron Man’s Robert Downey Jr. has been raking it in for his efforts since he took a back-end deal (meaning most of his pay is based on how is movies perform…and his movies PERFORM). Rumor has it he collected a cool $50M for The Avengers, and could see up to $70M for Iron Man 3. RDJ is being a stand-up guy though, and supposedly helping his fellow Avengers in their negotiations, since (and this is the stupid part) HE IS CURRENTLY UNSIGNED FOR ANY MORE FILMS. Apparently it’s gotten to the point where, if an Avengers cast-member hits a breaking point in their talks, they simply tell the studio to “Call Robert”. The studio is now starting to push PR about a potential replacement for Iron Man, but no one is buying it. Expect everyone to get paid…but like a lot of things, it didn’t have to be this hard.

Anyway, if you don’t follow the films, SHIELD (I’m not putting in the periods again) is the organization which essentially runs The Avengers initiative. But, apparently, that’s not all they do. There’s other “minor” heroes who are involved in other weird cases that have spun out of the events of the Battle of New York (the climax of The Avengers), and that’s what this show will be dedicated to tracking. Led by someone we all thought was MINOR SPOILER ALERT: dearly departed.

ABC got incredibly lucky with this show, since television programs (unlike films) seldom come with built-in audiences. Lets not forget that the director of The Avengers cut his teeth in television and this will be his fifth TV show (whereas The Avengers was only his second directorial effort). Joss Whedon grew up in television and has produced some of the most interesting programs (see: cult classics) to ever grace the airwaves, including the gone-too-quick series of Firefly (2002). He and his brother are two of the executive producers of SHIELD.

Yeah, so that’s a lot about SHIELD. It’s the only show virtually guaranteed to be a hit across the four networks. But ABC’s basically got nothing else in the stable.

They’ve got two shows which are either spin-offs or very similar to existing programming. Once Upon a time in Wonderland is another show which takes place in the Once Upon a Time universe (borrowing from the Marvel concept), but focused entirely on the Alice in Wonderland story. I’ve seen the trailer; I have yet to see how this show does 22 episodes a season for 5-6 years. It’s got a much darker temperament than its mothership, something I don’t think will play well with viewers; Once Upon a Time is best when it’s fun, an issue it had in the back nine episodes in Season 2.

Scandal is the biggest hit the net has had in the last couple of years, so why not completely copy the concept with the even-less-subtly-titled Betrayal? ABC’s soaps have worked for them over the last few years (Nashville, Revenge, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy), but they have stretched the concept a bit thin and it’s hard to see the net being successful devoting 5 of 18 primetime hours to heavily female skewed drama.

If ABC has had one big problem lately, it’s been in developing comedies. Since the year the net came up with The Middle, Modern Family and Cougar Town (all on the same night, in point of fact), they’ve struggled to find the same lightning in the bottle. Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing and the goofy The Neighbors are hanging on to slots on Friday night, but this is actually a tribute to ABC’s failure, not success (in that these would be long gone if they had anything else).

Alphabet Soup has rolled out four new comedies for 2013-14, all of which look really dumb. I couldn’t finish any of the previews, quite frankly. I’ll step aside on these and let you see for yourselves if you want (I wouldn’t recommend it). Hit up YouTube, and search for The Goldbergs, Trophy Wife, Back in the Game and Super Fun Night.

Finally, ABC has what appears to be a dramedy on Tuesdays at 10 called Lucky 7, about a bunch of guys at a gas station who pool their money to buy lottery tickets and (I’m guessing) win at some point. C’mon…how is this a series? I can see some good stuff in a movie or even limited series format, but what’re you going to do after Episode 7? Ep 12? 24? 102?

Lucky 7 also has the extreme misfortune to have been put Tuesdays at 10pm. While it initially looked like a good idea, both NBC and CBS shifted existing shows with relatively large audiences into that timeslot (Person of Interest and Chicago Fire), making it virtually impossible for Lucky 7 to find a big audience right out of the gate…a virtual kiss of death for a network show in the 21st century.

That’s not the only scheduling problem the net has. It took its biggest show in SHIELD and dropped it into the Tuesday at 8pm slot, opposite family friendly fare at NBC in The Biggest Loser, new comedy at Fox (which has almost no chance) and NCIS at CBS…only one of the highest rated programs on broadcast.

SHIELD should hold its own there, and this was a very safe move by the network. It has nothing established on Tuesdays, and SHIELD will provide a solid lead-in for two crappy (and likely soon cancelled) comedies and Lucky 7. But what this network needs is something of a game-changer and, if it were me, I’d have taken this very family friendly show and used it to replace another family friendly show that has long passed its expiration date.

The ballsy move here would have been to cancel America’s Funniest Home Videos and put SHIELD Sundays at 7PM. ABC has no football, but they’re afraid of it. Frankly SHIELD is a superhero show that the whole family could watch. With the also family friendly Once Upon a time fixed at 8pm, that’s a heck of a start to Sunday night. Then move Nashville in at 9pm, bump Revenge back to 10, and you’ve got a good shot to win the night.

But ABC doesn’t have balls; they’re desperate. Nashville remains on Wednesdays at 10, which is a bad fit following comedy, and ABC can’t come close to developing anything on Sundays at 10; one of the net’s biggest problem timeslots. Moving Nashville to Sundays would clear the way for Lucky 7 on Wednesdays after 2 hours of comedy; the dramady being the best natural fit for a timeslot like that. Move Scandal with its audience to Tuesday at 10 (good counter-programming to Person of Interest and Chicago Fire, both of which are procedurals) and place Betrayal in its former timeslot Thursdays at 10, where it can pull from Grey’s (which has the same audience).

I’ve also never seen it work where a 60 minute drama at 8pm helps the lead in for a pair of 30 minute comedies like ABC has Tuesday’s. They’ve have done better, frankly, with existing comedies there to go after Fox’s comedy night. NBC has the fading The Biggest Loser, so another balsy move: Modern Family at 8pm, The Middle at 8:30, going for second place to CBS and hoping to syphon off some viewers from NCIS. Or at least The Middle at 8 and Modern Family at 9 with the net’s two strongest comedy contenders in between.

In short, ABC needed to create a game-changing season this year. They didn’t do it, not even close.

Click here to see the full 2013-14 fall broadcast schedule.