The business of television is on full display now as all the networks spend tons of money trying to convince advertisers, investors, and audiences why their new slate of programming is the most profitable. This week it's the major broadcasters' turn as NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, and The CW will unveil all-new schedules as the "upfront" season reaches its climax.
ABC (a subsidiary of Disney (NYSE:DIS)) took its place in the upfront spotlight on Tuesday introducing advertisers to its slate of programming kicking off in the fall. As per tradition the network has ordered more pilots to series than many of its competitors and that means its executives will have a giant puzzle to fill in as the season progresses. For now though they are slotting six new shows in the fall time period, but it's the moves being made with its established series that are currently getting the most attention.
Boldest move – Solidifying Wednesday night comedy block
Most people will say ABC's boldest move is giving Shonda Rhimes her own night of programming (which I covered here) ... and they're probably right. But I'd argue what the network is doing on Wednesdays also ranks high on the bold scale, especially given increased competition on the night.
For the last few years ABC has relied heavily on single-camera comedies to propel its ratings, but aside from breakout hit Modern Family and the incredibly undervalued The Middle, executives have found few real successes. It would be easy to give up on the trend and try to integrate in a multi-camera, laugh-track based show but the network is staying the course...that's impressive (and bold).
ABC is set to be the only broadcast network committed to airing a two-hour block of single-camera comedies this fall. And the network could have its strongest slate yet. In addition to The Middle and Modern Family, ABC will shift freshman hit The Goldbergs from Tuesdays to Wednesdays and protect it on both sides with established hits. The network will end the night with Anthony Anderson's Black-ish, which co-stars Laurence Fishburne and is already earning buzz.
This is a strong lineup featuring four distinctly different families that between them touch on a number of demographics, something ABC has lacked since it first implemented the block a few years ago. The emphasis on multi-cultural comedy is a prominent feature of the net's 2014-15 schedule and one that could play well with advertisers and, in turn, investors.
Again, it would have been easy for ABC to cut and run on single-camera comedy -- the network's history, after all, is built on more traditional laughers like Home Improvement, Roseanne, and the entire TGIF lineup. But ABC topper Paul Lee is dedicated to trying something new, which should set his network apart.
Riskiest move – Everything about Tuesday nights
Last year's megafeud between NCIS and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was quickly over as the CBS' procedural handily won, but S.H.I.E.L.D. eventually turned itself into a solid show and finally found its footing after its Captain America: The Winter Solider-driven twist. Now though the network is shifting the series to 9 p.m., a confounding move when you look at what's around it.
Starting in September the series will be book-ended by three new programs. Usually networks don't like starting off a night with a new show as it forces the series to be a self-starter. For Selfie and Manhattan Love Story, that could be trouble. These are not your usual sitcoms. Selfie revolves around a beautiful shallow train wreck who realizes her social media "friends" aren't really friends and hires someone to emotionally fix her. Manhattan centers on two people in a new relationship who let the audience in on their every inner thought.
At 10 p.m. the network will roll out Forever, which has the unfortunate distinction of following such flops as Lucky 7, Killer Women, and Mind Games (and that's all in one season). Starring Ioan Gruffudd, Alana De La Garza, and Judd Hirsch, it follows an immortal medical examiner. Interesting, but I don't see how that, Selfie, or Manhattan fit in with S.H.I.E.L.D. and I don't know audiences will either. It seems like an odd match-up that could get trounced by CBS' procedurals and NBC's strong lineup, which includes The Voice.
Most interesting move – Not moving Shark Tank
Earlier in the year ABC made waves by giving Friday night titan Shark Tank a trial airing on Thursdays. Executives wanted to see how it would fare on a new night and if could help fill a problem area in the network's timeslot. The show did well but given the incredibly low bar that wasn't hard. While it didn't match its Friday's numbers, it wasn't that far off either, so many were curious how ABC would play its hand.
The new schedule is almost exactly the same as the old one in regards to Friday nights and the Sharks will keep swimming in the 9 p.m. slot it's come to own the last few seasons. Smart move.
Network executives often get over-excited when a show succeeds. They get greedy and make errors in judgment all in the quest for higher ratings. Fridays are a tough night for any show, but Tank has dominated. It owns the night and is often times not only winning the key 18-49 advertiser-friendly demo but topping its own record highs. Why mess with a good thing?
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.