— ABC is trying to get a handle on things, Olivia Pope-style.
As with the Washington, D.C. fixer at the center of its surprise sophomore Twitter-friendly hit "Scandal," the Disney-owned network Tuesday was eager to put on a good show at its annual upfront presentation — in part to gloss over a disappointing season. ABC returned only two of 10 shows it launched at the start of last season, the modestly performing "Nashville" and "The Neighbors."
The network unveiled a dozen new shows for the upcoming season, a mix of comedies and dramas that includes a comic book-inspired series from Joss Whedon to replace the faltering reality franchise "Dancing With the Stars" on Tuesday nights. (The reality competition series will remain on Monday nights.)
In opening its pitch to media buyers, ABC worked a little damage control by humorously nodding to its rocky season with a "Scandal"-inspired sketch that had Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) offer network advice to the president of Disney/ABC Television Group, Anne Sweeney, and wingman Jimmy Kimmel. In referring to "Dancing With the Stars," which lost nearly 30% of its audience this season, Kimmel quipped in the taped segment: "For one thing, they're not really stars."
Despite the tongue-in-cheek acknowledgments, Paul Lee, president of ABC's entertainment group, touted the network as the "No. 1 brand on TV" — trumpeting its shows' social media popularity, particularly "Scandal," whose major cast members were in attendance.
But the network certainly hasn't been No. 1 in the ratings. Among the major networks this season, it's poised to finish in fourth place among adults younger than 50. And, overall, its total viewership was down about 6%.
In hopes of reversing the trend, the network is making its boldest move on Tuesday nights, when it will air four new shows that will not benefit from an established returning program. Its biggest push seems to be behind Whedon's much-anticipated Marvel drama, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," which has already generated much online buzz thanks to a teaser of the series before a recent episode of "Once Upon a Time."
"If the 'Avengers' worked, it worked because everyone felt included," said Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," during the afternoon presentation at Lincoln Center. "'S.H.I.E.L.D.' is the next part of the Marvel cinematic universe. But it's brought me back to the medium I grew up in."
Following the superhero drama will be the retro '80s comedy "The Goldbergs" from actor-filmmaker Adam Goldberg, the Malin Akerman-starring Trophy Wife" and the DreamWorks Television lottery drama "Lucky 7."
On Wednesdays, Lee said the network hopes to "take it up a notch" by building a solid comedy block around the Emmy-winning "Modern Family." The network is looking to Australian comedic actress Rebel Wilson (of "Bridesmaids" fame) in "Super Fun Night," a less-hipster look at a group of girlfriends, to take up the post-"Modern Family" slot.
"For as long as I can remember, I had two dreams," said Wilson. "One was to have a TV show in America, the other is to marry Channing Tatum." The new James Caan intergenerational family comedy "Back in the Game" will occupy the 8:30 p.m. slot after steady performer "The Middle."
The network will also give pride of place to its "Once Upon a Time" spinoff, "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland," with an 8 p.m. Thursday slot; it will be the only change in prime time that day, as long-running "Grey's Anatomy" and newer hit "Scandal" follow.
Also staying put is "Nashville" in the 10 p.m. slot; in its first year, the Connie Britton country-music series attracted critical plaudits but drew mixed ratings.
Among the shows that ABC is to air with no definite premiere date are new comedy "Mixology," about a group of New York singles, Kyle Killen's psychological-themed "Mind Games" starring Steve Zahn and returning precocious-teen comedy "Suburgatory" starring Jane Levy.
Lee also described a seasonal structure in which limited-run series would be sandwiched between two batches of 12 episodes in fall and spring. The logic, he said, was to avoid the patchwork of repeats and originals that confuse viewers. Among the limited-run shows the network will air is the nonscripted series "The Quest," a kind of globe-trotting reality show that takes place in a "Lord of the Rings" environment.
In hopes of appealing to younger viewers, the network also announced plans to make its shows available to pay-TV subscribers through mobile apps that allow for viewing on hand-held devices. The effort, which is already being tested in New York, will become available in other markets by the fall, executives said.
In a trial program with the network, Nielsen will measure the audience for ABC shows in the digital world. Reliable figures would help the network set rates for advertisers.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun