The Alphabet Network shocked viewers with unexpected renewals and exciting series orders this past week. The future of ABC will rely on synergistic efforts, Shondaland programming, some traditional fare, and a great handful of risky offerings.
Count on the Muppets, diverse comedies, Marvel, experimental dramas, and Shonda Rhimes-infused dramas for what is sure to be a stellar 2015-2016 primetime schedule.
MUPPETS RETURN TO PRIMETIME!
It may have taken Disney more than a decade since its purchase of the Muppets to take these characters to primetime, but now we can officially expect Gonzo to exist on the same network as Olivia Pope in The Muppets. A mockumentary style show from Bill Prady, the co-creator of the wildly popular The Big Bang Theory, will feature our favorite Muppet characters. The premise alone should entice longtime fans of Jim Henson’s creations.
“The Muppets” return to prime time with a contemporary, documentary-style show that, for the first time ever, will explore the Muppets’ personal lives and relationships, both at home and at work, as well as romances, break-ups, achievements, disappointments, wants and desires; a more adult Muppet show, for kids of all ages.
The trailer, which has amassed much viewership during its first few days of release, showcases the potential of this more sophisticated take on the struggles that Kermit, Fozzie Bear, and friends face. Poor Fozzie encounters difficulties when meeting the parents of his (human) girlfriend. Gonzo breaks the fourth wall with some spot-on commentary on the use of cutaways in comedies, a la The Office and Modern Family. The preview delivers in offering humor that makes this brand absolutely renowned. Statler and Waldorf’s concluding remarks exemplify the wit and tongue-in-cheek humor we can expect from The Muppets.
Prospects: The Tuesday @ 8pm timeslot should work in drawing in family audiences, and yet the nature of the show may appeal to stalwart Muppets fans. Expect this to be a surprise, though mild hit for the network. Spectacular ratings may not be in store for this show, given that it will compete with The Voice and NCIS. However, television is such an appropriate outlet for the Muppets, given they started out on this medium many decades ago.
DIVERSITY IS THE NAME OF THE COMEDY GAME
Understandably, ABC attained acclaim from viewers and critics for including more representation on its network shows last year, whether it be regarding the ethnic backgrounds of its cast members or the content on their shows. This represents a smart move for ABC, as our American landscape is diverse in both our ideas and individuals. The trend continues this fall with its eclectic choices in comedies.
The Real O’Neals, starring Martha Plimpton, focuses on a dysfunctional Irish-Catholic family. Uncle Buck, a new spin on the John Candy film, arrives during midseason and serves as a vehicle for Mike Epps. This comedy, much like Black-ish, is one of only a few comedies on network television with a mostly (or entirely) African-American cast. Dr. Ken, featuring none other than Ken Jeong, is a more traditional multi-camera comedy – laugh track and all – yet focuses on an Asian-American family, akin to ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat.
Prospects: I think all of these comedies will garner notice for their collective emphasis on diversity, but when that becomes a tired point, I wonder if they will continue to bring in viewers. The trailers for the three shows (all found on the ABC Television Network YouTube channel) are a mixed bag. Real O’Neals seems to have the most genuine laughs, whereas Ken feels more stilted than what the doctor ordered.
MARVEL AND FANTASY TIME
Returning to ABC are two properties from Marvel. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which seemed like a breakout hit when it launched in fall 2013, is more of a moderate success story. Its ratings have tanked, though DVR and playback viewership have helped sustain its future. Surprisingly, Marvel’s Agent Carter, which debuted in January as a “limited series” (i.e. a shorter season), will return during the winter. This shocking renewal once again reveals corporate influence and desires for more synergy.
Likewise, the unexpected return of Galavant in midseason shows company loyalty to shows from ABC Studios, and also fitting into the “alternative fantasy programming” genre. We can all cheer for more tunes from Alan Menken and crew! Galavant will come back to fill Once Upon a Time‘s winter hiatus. Speaking of the fairy-tale drama, Once will hit the 100-episode mark during its fifth season.
Prospects:S.H.I.E.L.D. will likely only last through the end of its fourth season – reaching that coveted syndication stage – and its spot on the ABC lineup suggests the power of Disney and Marvel in keeping this superhero property on television. Though ratings are not as strong as a few seasons ago, Once‘s strong fanbase and internal appreciation at ABC should ensure it keeps on going for at least another season beyond the upcoming one. Carter and Galavant are another story. Their ratings must reflect this past season’s numbers to have a fighting chance for staying alive.
WHAT’S WITH ALL THE DRAMA?
Building on the Rhimes brand is The Catch, to premiere Thursday nights in Murder‘s timeslot during midseason. Mireille Enos plays a fraud investigator about to experience major professional and personal obstacles, as the elusive trailer suggests. Oil appears to mix Dallas, Revenge, Empire, and the short-lived Dirty Sexy Money in a drama starring Don Johnson and Chace Crawford. Of Kings and Prophets, following Oil on Sunday nights, stays within the realm of powerful families. In this case, this has a biblical flair.
Replacing Prophets‘ timeslot during midseason is The Family, in line with Secrets and Lies. Starring Joan Allen, Family (a poor title choice, which could be easily confused with Modern Family, also on ABC) possesses that mystery vibe ABC loves, focusing on a California mayor (Allen) whose son disappears and then returns many years later. Other new dramas include Quantico, set in the world of FBI trainees (involving a terrorism plot), and Wicked City, a winter replacement for Quantico that will take viewers back to Los Angeles in 1982, an environment full of corruption and shady individuals.
Prospects:Catch is another win for ABC and Rhimes. Oil may end up quickly disappearing or finding a base in viewers, likely to have higher average household salaries, based on the industrial premise of the show. Of Kings and Prophets looks rather awful and limited in viewer appeal. Family has “hit new show” written all over hit. Quantico looks fantastic, too, though ABC has often struggled in the Tuesday 10/9c timeslot. That may be a similar challenge for Wicked City, too.
Returning hits Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder will fill the social media sensation #TGIT on Thursday nights. Everyone adores Shonda Rhimes’ dramatic sensations, all of them built on compelling and, yes, diverse characters.
Few could have envisioned ABC to renew as many shows as it did. Sure, Forever and Cristela said good-bye. After four seasons, Revenge was buried. Then again, low-rated American Crime was renewed. Nashville will enter its fourth (and likely final) season. Secrets and Lies just made it, becoming a mild hit much like Fresh Off the Boat. Longtime favorite comedies Modern Family and The Middle are back on Wednesday nights, along with The Goldbergs and Black-ish. Last Man Standing also returns on Friday nights. Dancing with the Stars and Castle continue their Monday night residences, save for when The Bachelor steps in midseason for Dancing. Shark Tank, America’s Funniest Videos, and 20/20 remain in their standard timeslots.
This coming primetime schedule marks an exciting period for ABC, one in which its great shows (Scandal and Modern Family, just to name a few) continue to dominate television. ABC is gambling on alternative premises for shows (The Muppets and those many fantasy/superhero shows), but they may reward in corporate payoffs, and mixing in many shows during midseason spreads out the offerings. While I will not be catching all of the new shows, I am ready to watch Muppets, Quantico, The Family, and Real O’Neals… at least initially.
What shows are you most excited for?
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.