ABC’s 2016 – 2017 upfront presentation didn’t waste time letting you know they are the most diverse of the big four networks. From Priyanka Chopra bursting out into song and dance to kick off the show, to frequently acknowledging “Black-ish’s” recent Peabody award, ABC was out in full force touting the strength and inclusiveness of their programming and how their new shows would fit within this overall brand.
Little mention was made to the shows that got the ax early on in the week. Gone was any mention of controversial cancellations, such as “Nashville” or “Castle.” Besides a fun Jimmy Kimmel joke at the expense of the ill fated “Wicked City” (“18-49 isn’t just our demo, it’s the amount of people who watched ‘Wicked City'”), ABC’s upfront had it’s eyes on its future programming.
“Dancing with the Stars” – 8/7c
“Conviction” – 10/9c
“The Middle” – 8/7c
“American Housewife” – 8:30/7:30c
“Fresh Off the Boat” – 9/8c
“The Real O’Neals” – 9:30/8:30c
“Agents of SHIELD” – 10/9c
“The Goldbergs” – 8/7c
“Speechless” – 8:30/7:30c
“Modern Family” – 9/8c
“Black-ish” – 9:30/8:30c
“Designated Survivor” – 10/9c
“Grey’s Anatomy” – 8/7c
“Notorious” – 9/8c
“How to Get Away with Murder” – 10/9c
“Last Man Standing” – 8/7c
“Dr. Ken” – 8:30/7:30c
“Shark Tank” – 9/8c
“20/20” – 10/9c
“Saturday Night Football” – 8/7c
“America’s Funniest Home Videos” – 7/6c
“Once Upon a Time” – 8/7c
“Secrets and Lies” – 9/8c
“Quantico” – 10/9c
New Midseason Shows
“Time After Time”
“Still Star Crossed”
“When We Rise”
The one new show ABC really wanted to highlight was “Designated Survivor,” which brings Kiefer Sutherland back to network television. Between this and FOX’s “24: Legacy,” it seems network TV executives are really banking on Sutherland nostalgia. However, “Designated Survivor” actually looks like a strong drama/thriller. Tom Kirkman (Sutherland) is a member of the President’s cabinet sent to an undisclosed location while the State of the Union happens. When a bomb goes off during the speech, killing all in the natural line of succession for the Presidency, Kirkman is the only person left to assume the role of President of the United States. It’s great to see Sutherland in his element again, and the premise seems extra relevant during our election year. Here’s hoping the show can sustain itself off of its buzzy logline and veteran star.
Even with so many successful family comedies, such as “Modern Family,” “Blackish,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” “The Real O’Neals,” and many more, ABC decided there were still room for four more new comedies. While all billed as “unconventional family comedies,” each offering had it’s own vastly different calling card. The one that looks the strongest seems to be “Speechless,” mainly because Minnie Driver proved with NBC’s “About a Boy” that she can successfully carry a sitcom. The show deals with the mother of a special needs child as she crusades for every measure to ensure her child can have his voice heard and live a normal life. The comedy will surely bring the tears, but the jury is still out on whether the sentiment will ring true or come off as hokey Lifetime-ready material.
Strangely enough, we might have a talking dog comedy that could actually work. Midseason replacement “Downward Dog” follows the struggle of a harried millennial named Nan, played by the always wonderful Alison Tolman from “Fargo,” as told from the point of view of her cute but lonesome dog and companion, Martin. This is not your “Family Guy” talking dog scenario, it’s only Frank Underwood style fourth-wall breaks from Martin. The rest of the series takes place in a realistic world as Nan as she tries to put together her life with Martin as her steadfast companion. For all dog lovers out there, this new series seems to be a winner.
“American Housewife,” following a harried, overweight mother of three surrounded by a sea of “perfect Moms” in Westport, Connecticut, had some good laughs, but on first glance seemed more conventional and easy than the rest of the interesting comedies ABC has on its slate. On the other side of the spectrum is “Imaginary Mary,” a midseason replacement starring Jenna Elfman. What seemed like a standard premise at first, career focused Alice (Elfman) falls for guy with three kids, quickly turned absolutely bonkers when Alice’s childhood imaginary friend named Mary (voiced by the always welcome Rachel Dracht) comes back into her life to drudge up childhood wounds and save her from settling down. The imaginary friend angle seems like a good hook on paper, but seemed unsettling and out of place in actual footage.
While the comedy offerings had some radical hooks that may or may not have worked, some of the dramas could have used a little more originality. It goes without saying that there must always be a law procedural at every upfront. ABC’s entry into this subgenre, “Conviction” is certainly far from the worst. A controversial party girl lawyer and former First Daughter (played by Hayley Atwell) is forced to work the Conviction Integrity Unit after being blackmailed following being caught with cocaine. If the edginess of the character’s checkered past are played right, the show might really work. However, it could just as easily pass as another “by the numbers” law procedural. The same could be said about the newest addition to TGIT, “Notorious.” The show follows a network producer and smarmy lawyer pair who work together to boost her ratings, help his clients and have scandalous sex at the workplace along the way. It lays bare the ABC formula very clearly, take a workplace, insert pretty people having secret sex and watch the drama unfold. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as insatiable or dramatic as hits such as “Scandal” or “How to Get Away with Murder.”
Time travel seems to be another consistent through the 2016-2017 upfront season. However, FOX’s “Making History” comedy version of the subject seems a lot more interesting than ABC’s “Time After Time,” which follows H.G. Wells time traveling to present day Manhattan to stop Jack the Ripper, who also time traveled to present day Manhattan. It’s a ludicrous premise played without a hint of fun. It might be a little risky to bank on H.G. Wells as your name attraction for a big budget new series.
If we are talking about period pieces, we have to discuss Shonda Rhimes’ newest ABC show, “Still Star Crossed,” which looks at the Capulets and Montagues following the events of Romeo and Juliet. While the production values look mighty high, so did “Of Kings and Prophets,” and ABC pulled the plug on that one pretty quickly. Could we have the first Shonda Rhimes outright flop?
Perhaps one of my favorites of ABC’s new roster was their miniseries “When We Rise.” The 8-hour project, written by Dustin Lance Black and directed by Gus Van Sant, chronicles the gay rights movement from Stonewall through the legalization of same sex marriage. Featuring a dynamite cast that includes Guy Pearce, Mary Louise Parker, Rachel Griffiths, Whoopi Goldberg, and Michael Kenneth Williams, among others, the series looks to be fantastic. ABC has proven its ability to deal with complex LGBT matters after this past season of “American Crime” (thankfully returning for a third season). While the footage did acknowledge African American drag queens being instrumental in the Stonewall riots, the only caution I have with the show is that it hopefully represents the diverse members who have made history, rather than whitewash pivotal moments, a la Roland Emmerich’s “Stonewall” film.
In a slate filled with originals, ABC did have to throw in one remake. In keeping with the musical craze popularized by “Grease Live” and “Sound of Music,” ABC has decided to make a TV movie out of the Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey classic “Dirty Dancing,” starring Abigail Breslin, Debra Messing and newcomer Cole Prattes, among others. As a lifetime fan of the original, I am not at all excited to see what a network TV movie version of the classic looks like. Lest we forget the “Dirty” in “Dirty Dancing” or the fact that the entire plot revolves around an abortion. Will ABC sand off the edges in an effort to cram in more musical numbers?
It’s nice to see ABC recognizing that diversity works and building that into their future programming. While some shows seem to be adding sizzle on reheated ideas, ABC seems to be embracing originality for most of their programming. It’s hard to judge a new show on trailer alone, but ABC seems to have some daring and interesting programming in store for us during the 2016 – 2017 season.
What do you think of ABC’s new series?
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