It's upfront time, when major broadcast and cable networks try to convince advertisers their slates will give them the best return on investment.
ABC (a subsidiary of Disney (NYSE:DIS) has a number of hits, but last year was unable to launch many new ones, making this a critical year. As executives prepare to unveil what they have on tap let's put it all in perspective.
ABC's 2013 fall schedule didn't pan out the way executives hoped. I don't want to dwell on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so I'll simply say it was a good idea and it's finding its way, so there's plenty left in that story. The same can't be said for fellow first year dramas Betrayal, Lucky 7, and Once Upon a Time in Wonderland -- all are likely to be one and done.
Betrayal was ABC's attempt to enter the limited-series space while at the same time trying to capitalize off Revenge's audience. The result was just a mess and audiences quickly bypassed it.
The same goes for Wonderland -- it was originally meant to be a bridge series to help cover the network during Once Upon a Time's winter hiatus, which made sense. But ABC executives changed their minds and gave Wonderland a fall start in the ABC dead zone of Thursday's at 8 p.m. They thought that it would help break the network's unlucky streak in that slot that dates back to 2007; they were wrong.
Meanwhile the less said about Lucky 7, the better. NBC tried the same concept years ago with a better known cast and in a less crowded timeslot. It was called Windfall and it failed just as badly.
The comedy side fared a little better. ABC launched The Goldbergs, arguably one of the higher-quality freshman comedies on TV. It was smart, nostalgic, and well-casted, and it should expect a sophomore run. Tuesday night neighbor Trophy Wife also had its charms. Given that Back in the Game and Super Fun Night fizzled, it too could snare a second season.
What's coming back?
ABC's the only one of the big five to not tip its hand about renewal plans. That's been the network's strategy for a few years and you should expect a tidal wave of renewals the Friday before upfront week in May. But that hasn't stopped analysts and critics from guessing which shows will get the nod.
Rookie shows aside, it's fairly easy to say staples Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, Once Upon a Time, Castle, The Middle, and Modern Family are safe. Reality hit America's Funniest Home Videos, Dancing With the Stars, and Shark Tank also fall in that guaranteed space. Bubble shows like Revenge, Nashville, Resurrection, Last Man Standing, and The Neighbors which could go either way.
Of all, Revenge and Standing have the best shot because they need just one more season to become eligible for syndication, and that's a big financial boon for the network and studios behind the shows. They'd be foolish not to give them swan song seasons, especially Revenge, which is heavily serialized and owes its audience a resolution.
Nashville and Neighbors are solid utility players and an argument can be made for both to survive ... quite a surprise given the bile spewed by critics toward Neighbors when it launched two years ago. The twist here is that if you renew both shows, then they too become one season away from syndication status and you essentially have to commit to them again next season to ensure an added layer of profitability. Basically, it's speak now or hold your piece for at least two years.
Resurrection is the biggest wild card. It started smoking hot, but has cooled considerably in the ratings, but I expect it to be back as well. Season one was only eight episodes, so ABC could extend that to 13 and hold it for midseason, giving it a solid bench player for the spring half of the season.
The network needs at least one new buzzy drama and two hot comedies, which seem realistic given the pilots in consideration. ABC is using a mix of old-school and new-wave programming ideas. A big trend this pilot season has been "direct to series" orders. While that's virtually all Fox did, the other networks have each selected one or two projects to go all-in on. ABC has two.
The Club (working title) has been described as Downton Abbey at a country club and was originally being helmed by American Hustle director David O. Russell and Susannah Grant. Russell has since dropped out, leaving Grant as the lead showrunner. Grant's an Oscar winner for penning Erin Brockovich so the series is still in very good hands, but the addition of Russell would have been a huge coup.
ABC also has the limited-run series Secrets and Lies, whose cast-contingent option was lifted when Ryan Phillippe signed on as the lead -- a man whose life unravels when he's implicated in the murder of a child. Juliette Lewis would co-star as his wife.
Speaking of murder, Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes is aiming to have three shows on ABC in the fall with her buzzy How to Get Away With Murder. Starring Oscar nominee Viola Davis, the drama looks at a college law professor and her class that becomes embroiled in a crime.
Meanwhile Dexter star Jennifer Carpenter is also attracting attention for her new potential drama Sea of Fire about a small town rocked by a unspeakable crime, while 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley is gaining ground with his American Crime project starring Timothy Hutton (Leverage) and Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives) that centers on a racially charged murder trial.
On the lighter side ABC is looking to team with comedians Kevin Hart, Anthony Anderson, and Henry Winkler for a trio of semi-autobiographical series. In addition to each having an on-screen presence on their potential comedy, a number of in-demand actors -- Romany Malco (Weeds), Eva Amurri Martino (Californication), and Laurence Fishburne (CSI) -- are attached to those respective casts. ABC also has projects in consideration starring Friends alum David Schwimmer, Pitch Perfect stars Anna Camp and Brittany Snow (in separate shows), as well as Sopranos star Michael Imperiloi.
As mentioned earlier, ABC isn't shy when it comes to ordering new shows, and with the level of talent in its development pool at the moment that's a trend likely to continue. Overall the network is in good position to be a sleeper this season and it's possible one or two of these potential series will catch on with influencers.
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Brett Gold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.