Olivia Pope will be back to save the day again next season ... not that there was ever any doubt.
ABC (a subsidiary of Disney (NYSE:DIS) just picked up over a dozen of its established hits. But aside from renewing megahits like Scandal and Modern Family, ABC gave the OK to 10 new dramas, including another one from its ultimate fixer; Shonda Rhimes.
Given the success of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and Private Practice, it was never in doubt that Rhimes' latest creation would be at the top of the pack. The multi-talented Rhimes is to ABC what Chuck Lorre is to CBS and what Dick Wolf is NBC. Her latest, How to Get Away With Murder, revolves around a college law professor and her class that gets entangled in a murder plot. Headlined by Oscar nominee Viola Davis and backed by an ensemble (of soon-to-be big names), Murder should (pardon the pun) make a killing with advertisers and be big business for the network.
Murder has all sorts of enticing elements beyond the pedigree of Rhimes and the star power of Davis, who was courted for multiple projects this season. The drama gives executives a new power piece they can plan their schedule around. It's a character-driven program with a strong African-American female lead that falls right in the network's wheelhouse. Look at ABC's other shows and you'll notice a pattern -- female leads on shows that have cross-over appeal with multiple demos. This won't be the first time ABC has three Rhimes shows on its network, but it could be the first time it delivers on this grand of a scale.
ABC's fall will also include the return of Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman with American Crime. The series co-stars Timothy Hutton (Leverage) and is from John Ridley, who is coming off his Oscar win for penning the screenplay for 12 Years a Slave.
The plot centers on a racially charged murder and the subsequent trial, with equal emphasis on the personal lives of all the major players. This is a dark show, with a tone well outside the wheelhouse ABC viewers are used to. The same could be said for alien drama The Whispers.
Whispers boasts a cast that includes Lily Rabe (American Horror Story), Barry Sloane (Revenge), and Milo Ventimigla (Heroes). Sloane got permission from the producers of Revenge to take the pilot and now that it's a go and Revenge has been renewed, things could get interesting. Whispers, like Crime, is darker than ABC's usual pick-ups and is based on a Ray Bradbury short story about aliens who use Earth's own technology against it to take over the world.
This new darker direction could be a major drawing point for advertisers looking for the next The Following, so this could play well on Madison Avenue. A lot will depend on the preview trailers and how it plays in the room during the network's presentation this week. ABC's is successful but still needs a few more pieces to make a run at its rivals.
Fear not though, ABC will still have a lighter side as it tries to find a comedy hit relating to today's 20 and 30 somethings ... despite missing last season with the now cancelled Mixology. Among the picked up are Selfie, Manhattan Love Story, and Galavant, each unlike anything currently on TV.
Selfie follows a woman trying to rebuild her image after becoming a social media laughingstock, Manhattan looks at a new couple and takes you inside their heads for their unfiltered thoughts on dating, and Galavant is described as "a musical fairy tale that centers on [a] handsome prince and his quest for revenge over the king who stole his one true love."
Galavant comes from Dan Fogelman, who critics remember as the man behind alien comedy The Neighbors, which was among ABC's recent cancellations. ABC also picked up Black-ish starring Anthony Anderson and Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne, who will recur as Anderson's father. Fishburne is also still committed to the just-renewed Hannibal on NBC.
These comedies are not surprising given the reputation of network topper Paul Lee, who has a history of "out there" picks including the aforementioned Neighbors, cross-dressing comedy Work It!, and serialized fantasy thriller The River. I give Lee a lot of credit -- he makes selections based on what he thinks would be fun to watch and not necessarily the "safe" choice. It goes against the traditional business model and that's a good thing because traditional is no longer working.
ABC will be bringing back a number of established hits to help support its rookie crop. Unlike the other networks, which gave out renewals over the last few months, ABC waited (as it usually does) until now ... and it's a long list.
Among the returning are Castle, Scandal, Grey's Anatomy, Last Man Standing, Modern Family, The Middle, Nashville, Revenge, and reality hits Shark Tank, America's Funniest Home Videos, The Bachelor, and Dancing With the Stars.
Rookie series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Goldbergs also made the cut with Trophy Wife joining Mixology and Super Fun Night as not being renewed. Third-year comedy Suburgatory was also cancelled.
ABC and NBC typically take the most pilots and that's to help balance out risky moves. As mentioned, in ABC's case Lee likes to make boom-or-bust choices and this season is no exception. Overall the decisions made so far suggest a new tone for the network, but also some familiar elements in case of emergencies.
Stay tuned as ABC reveals its schedule on Tuesday.
Brett Gold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. 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.
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