We’ve reached the midpoint of Adweek’s week-long look at each broadcast network’s new fall shows. Today, the spotlight is on ABC, which last season came in third among adults ages 18 to 49, but in recent years has made substantial progress in building formidable programming blocks on multiple nights.
Because of that, ABC’s fall schedule leaves four nights untouched from last season: Mondays (Dancing with the Stars and Castle), Wednesdays (comedies The Middle, The Goldbergs, Modern Family and Black-ish, followed by Nashville), Thursdays (Shonda Rhimes' TGIT trio of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder) and Saturdays (college football).
As a result, the network has fewer holes to fill with new programming than usual—which is a good thing given that ABC has produced the most underwhelming freshman fall class of any broadcast network. That’s a big comedown from last fall, which featured two impressive debuts in How to Get Away with Murder and Black-ish.
As we've been saying all week, while a pilot isn’t always the best way to judge a show’s potential, it’s often the only episode that audiences watch before making a decision about whether to stick around or cut bait, especially with all the other new and returning shows fighting for attention. With that in mind, here are ABC’s fall shows from least promising to most promising.
Wicked City (10 p.m. Tuesdays, premieres Oct. 27)
The plot: On L.A.’s Sunset Strip in 1982, a serial killer (Ed Westwick) preying on women discovers a kindred spirit in a fellow “sociopath” (Erika Christensen). They team up, Bonnie and Clyde-style, with detectives on their trail. If the show continues, subsequent seasons will tackle a new L.A.-based story in a different time period.
The verdict: After recasting Jeremy Sisto as the lead cop this summer, ABC withheld the original pilot from press, releasing only its first five minutes. And that brief but uninspired footage showing Westwick offing his latest victim has too much of an Aquarius vibe, right down to its way-too-on-the-nose soundtrack (which, again, might change). Mark this one down as incomplete for now, but the pilot’s opening minutes dig the show into a deep hole that it might not be able to get out of.
Is it good for your brand? Based on the little footage I’ve seen, no. But if you have no issues buying time on exploitative dramas like Criminal Minds and last season's Stalker, then this might be another spot for you. Until ABC has more to show, there’s no reason to take a leap of faith, particularly in a time slot so radioactive that it knocked off three separate dramas in 2013-14.
Blood and Oil (9 p.m. Sundays, premieres Sept. 27)
The plot: Newlyweds (Chace Crawford and Rebecca Rittenhouse) follow the oil rush to Rock Springs, North Dakota, with dreams of opening a Laundromat in that boomtown. As plans quickly implode, they find themselves entangled with an oil baron (Don Johnson) as they pursue a much bigger slice of the pie.
The verdict: ABC would love this prime-time soap about family members battling over the oil business to be the next Dallas, but the pilot doesn’t even compare favorably to TNT’s recent watered-down revival of that show. (At one point, two characters fight in an actual oil spill.) There’s little reason to care about Crawford and Rittenhouse’s plight, especially given how wildly their fortunes shift from scene to scene. Blood and Oil has already endured considerable behind-the-scenes turmoil over the show’s creative direction; the new team in charge would be wise to move Johnson front and center. He’s the only reason to watch.
Is it good for your brand? Definitely not if you’re in automotive (one main character can’t get behind the wheel without getting into an accident), and gas brands might want to steer clear, too. As for the rest, displaced Revenge advertisers might find a new home here, albeit a temporary one.
Dr. Ken (8:30 p.m. Fridays, premieres Oct. 2)
The plot: Doctor turned actor Ken Jeong comes full circle, playing an abrasive general practitioner and exasperated dad of two.
The verdict: It doesn’t compare favorably to last year’s post-Last Man Standing family sitcom: the underrated Cristela. Jeong is giving it his all, and I heartily applaud the TV return of Albert Tsai (Bert from Trophy Wife) as his son, but the show needs some significant recalibration. In his film debut, Knocked Up, Jeong played a no-nonsense doctor for laughs, but here, his bedside manner is too offensive to be funny. A fat-shaming scene in the initial pilot has already been dropped—which is a start—but Dr. Ken should shift more focus to Tsai and his personal life until the show sorts out his professional one.
Is it good for your brand? Obesity awareness groups were already up in arms about that excised scene from the pilot, meaning brands should be wary of other controversies, especially if ABC doesn’t straighten out Jeong's office persona. Given that this is the weakest of the network's seven family-themed comedies this fall (eight, if you include The Muppets), there are many more options for your brand on ABC.
Quantico (10 p.m. Sundays, premieres Sept. 27)
The plot: The show switches between two time frames: One follows a new group of FBI recruits starting their training at Quantico; the other jumps to their post-Academy careers, where one of them (Priyanka Chopra) is accused of engineering a devastating New York terrorist bombing.
The verdict: Engaging and enthralling. Dual-timeline series can be tricky, but this one pulls it off so far, thanks to Chopra, a Bollywood star who's largely unknown in the U.S.—for now. She could easily end up as one of the season's breakout stars if producers don't botch the compelling post-Academy storyline.
Is it good for your brand? The bombing footage could make for some problematic ad adjacencies, and the show will have its work cut out for it in one of TV’s worst time slots. (This is where Revenge went to die last season.) But ABC is betting heavily on Quantico and should do all it can to give this one a chance to succeed (including a time slot swap if ratings lag), so brands that associate with the likes of Blacklist should consider getting in on the ground floor here.
The Muppets (8 p.m. Tuesdays, premieres Sept. 22)
The plot: Kermit, Miss Piggy and literally every other Muppet you’ve ever met return to ABC for their first series in almost two decades. This mockumentary-style show is set behind the scenes of Up Late with Miss Piggy, her late-night talk show. Plus, Kermit and Piggy have split!
The verdict: It's great fun, though ABC had me worried there for a moment. While the 10-minute original pilot presentation, which the network posted this summer, looked promising, ABC didn't share a minute of actual series footage until last night, when it finally showed the first two episodes to critics. Usually an 11th-hour screener release means the network has something to hide, but the series does right by both the Muppets and their fans; while the humor is skewed more toward adults than kids, there's plenty for the whole family to enjoy. With amusing cameos from several game celebs (the first episode includes Elizabeth Banks, Tom Bergeron and Imagine Dragons) and lots of laughs (Electric Mayhem bandleader Dr. Teeth gets many of the best quips in the early going), The Muppets is one of fall's most entertaining new shows.
Is it good for your brand? More than any other new ABC series, yes. Few shows are more brand friendly than The Muppets, and this show holds equal appeal for adults (i.e., lifelong Muppets fans) and their kids. This has been a difficult time slot for ABC until last spring, when Fresh Off the Boat found success here. (It will now air after The Muppets.) Plus, the show—and the show-within-the-show—is packed with integration potential.