In what has become a somewhat hoary upfront tradition, Jimmy Kimmel on Tuesday took the stage at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall and gleefully skewered the broadcast TV business.
“Let’s call the upfronts what it is: Throwing a bunch of shit at a wall to see what sticks. And guess what? You guys are the wall,” Kimmel told the assembled media buyers at the tail end of ABC’s upfront presentation. As he’s done for the past 11 years, the late-night host teed off on the network’s rivals, likening Fox to the Titanic and suggesting that only a lobbying effort to impose immigration reform would save NBC from an advancing Univision.
Of course, ABC received its fair share of abuse, as Kimmel reminded buyers that they were on the verge of investing “$4 billion in a network that rolled a 400-pound comedian off a diving board last week.” (Later, he would return to the bellyflop that was the celebrity diving competition series, Splash, suggesting that ABC would drain the pool next season and rename the show Splat.)
For all that, ABC actually assembled its most promising prime-time schedule in years, introducing a horde of new dramas and comedies designed to free it from broadcast’s ratings basement. (While no one directly acknowledged that ABC will once again finish last among the Big Four in the race for adults 18-49—entertainment president Paul Lee instead focused on the intangibles, describing ABC as the “No. 1 brand in network television”—the proof was there for all to see in the radical reconfiguration of its nightly lineup.)
With only two freshman shows returning in the fall, ABC has plenty of opportunities to try and reinvent itself. Tuesday nights have been utterly transformed, and over the course of the season, the network will introduce no fewer than a dozen new scripted series.
Chief among these is Josh Wheedon’s much-anticipated Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which leads off Tuesdays in the 8 p.m. slot. Born of the $1.5 billion Avengers theatrical, S.H.I.E.L.D. should bow to monster ratings if ABC cross-promotes the absolute hell out of it on sibling net ESPN.
Wheedon’s show leads into a pair of new comedies and a drama from Steven Spielberg and ER producer David Zabel. At 8:30 p.m., Jeff Garlin stars in The Goldbergs, a noisy ‘80s nostalgia trip that may just as easily been titled George Costanza’s Wonder Years. A fun, if shouty, look back at the era of VHS, floppy disks and Alf, The Goldbergs is pretty clearly Lee’s favorite new comedy.
The 9 p.m. slot is filled by a much more contemporary twist on the family comedy, as Malin Akerman stars as the third spouse of Bradley Whitford in Trophy Wife. The promo reel showcases Akerman’s gift for physical comedy, but there are also some promising one-liners in the mix. “You’re not even a real grown-up,” one of Whitford’s weird children tells her. “Your car is full of garbage and shoes.”
At 10 p.m., ABC offers a 99-percenter drama in Lucky 7. As alluded to in the title, the show focuses on a group of seven gas station employees from Queens who win the lottery. Naturally, complications arise.
Wednesday night ushers in a pair of new comedies, while Nashville remains in the 10 p.m. slot. At 8:30, Back in the Game stars James Caan as the estranged father of a former softball phenom (Maggie Lawson) who coaches a Little League team of misfits. Leading out of Modern Family, Rebel Wilson stars in the raucous Super Fun Night. If the vulgar and funny promo didn’t grab buyers’ attention, Wilson’s personal pitch had them rolling in the aisles. By way of describing the show, the Australian actress said Super Fun Night “is really the anti-Sex and the City," adding “when these ladies are out eating at night, they’re not talking about dick.”
Long a dead zone, ABC’s Thursday 8 p.m. time slot is getting a shot in the arm with Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. A fractured take on Lewis Carroll’s mushroom-gobbling heroine, Wonderland leads off a night of “empowered women,” per Lee. Veteran drama Grey’s Anatomy returns at 9 p.m., followed by the fizzy guilty pleasure, Scandal. The Beltway potboiler is clearly another in-house fave; star Kerry Washington appeared in a filmed skit with Kimmel and Disney Media co-chair Anne Sweeney, and later took the stage with the rest of the cast.
In what seems to be the big trend of this year’s development season, ABC is kicking the tires on a limited series. The sudsy 13-episode arc of Betrayal examines the sexual liaison between an unhappily married woman (Hannah Ware) and her husband’s courtroom nemesis (Stuart Townsend). Betrayal is of a piece with the previously announced concepts in the works at Fox (Wayward Pines, Shōgun) and NBC (Dracula, Crossbones).
Set for midseason premieres are the new dramas Killer Women, Mind Games and Resurrection, as well as the hook-up comedy Mixology. Resurrection’s spooky premise (a boy materializes on his parents’ front porch 30 years after his death) makes it one of the most intriguing new entries on ABC’s slate.
ABC’s complete fall schedule is as follows. New series are in bold:
8-10 p.m. — Dancing With the Stars
10-11 p.m. — Castle
8-9 p.m. — Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
9-9:30 p.m. — The Goldbergs
9:30-10 p.m. — Trophy Wife
10-11 p.m. — Lucky 7
8-8:30 p.m. — The Middle
8:30-9 p.m. — Back in the Game
9-9:30 p.m. — Modern Family
9:30-10 p.m. — Super Fun Night
10-11 p.m. Nashville
8-9 p.m. — Once Upon a Time in Wonderland
9-10 p.m. — Grey’s Anatomy
10-11 p.m. — Scandal
8-8:30 p.m. — Last Man Standing
8:30-9 p.m. — The Neighbors
9-10 p.m. — Shark Tank
10-11 p.m. — 20/20
7- 8 p.m. — America’s Funniest Home Videos
8-9 p.m. — Once Upon a Time
9-10 p.m. — Revenge
10-11 p.m. — Betrayal