ABC says all the pieces are in place for its upcoming firefighter-themed spinoff of one of its biggest hit shows, except for one of the most important ones: a title for the drama.
Two months before the Shonda Rhimes-produced Grey’s Anatomy spinoff debuts on ABC, the network is still settling on the best name for the show, ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey said today at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour.
“Coming up with a title is one of the most challenging things we do,” said Dungey, who pointed out that ABC execs did not settle on a title for Grey’s Anatomy until “right before air” when the medical drama launched in 2005.
“We didn’t want to come out with something at TCA and then change it a couple of weeks later,” said Dungey, who has “a few final ideas that we’re rolling around” and expects to make a decision in a few weeks.
One problem for the network is that while something like Seattle Fire might be a natural name for the series, that title is out of the running because of the similarly named Chicago Fire, which is part of NBC’s Chicago drama franchise. “That would be the main reason we’re not going to call it Chicago Fire,” she said.
Prior to Dungey’s executive session, ABC announced the spinoff will have a two-hour premiere on March 22 before settling into its 9 p.m. time slot the following Thursday. As a result of the scheduling shift, Scandal will shift back an hour, closing out its seven-season run at 10 p.m. starting on March 29.
Dungey was much more tight-lipped about the news that Disney will acquire 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion than her Fox counterparts were last week.. “At the moment, my focus is on everything that lies directly in front of me,” between launching her midseason shows and deciding which pilots to order during the current development season, she said. “The company has said everything it is going to say on the topic” ahead of the regulatory process.
ABC is launching two new shows executive produced by Rhimes this season—her legal drama, For the People, debuts March 13—before the producer segues to her new deal with Netflix. Despite Rhimes’ impending exit from ABC Studios, “our relationship is as strong as it’s ever been,” said Dungey, who has been aware for some time that Rhimes had been interested in “stretching different sets of creative muscles.”
While Rhimes will still be involved with her current ABC shows, Dungey isn’t sure if the Netflix deal precludes her from developing other Grey’s Anatomy spinoffs for ABC in the future.
Dungey said she “feels really confident about the creative” for ABC’s upcoming reboot of American Idol, which will go head-to-head against NBC’s The Voice in March, though she declined to give specifics about how successful the show will have to be this season to be considered a success.
As for another of ABC’s big midseason revivals, Roseanne (returning March 27), the network is encouraged by NBC’s success with its Will & Grace revival last fall. “Anytime things do well in broadcast, I feel like it’s a rising tide that lifts all boats,” Dungey said, adding that in addition to the show’s nostalgia factor, the sitcom also “feels very specific to this time in the world.”
Dungey addressed ABC’s decision to essentially cancel new comedy The Mayor last week, pulling it from the schedule. The exec said while she was creatively happy with the show—it was one of fall’s most promising freshman series—“for whatever reason, it did not connect to the audience.”
One reason, Dungey suggested, was that people were “fatigued about anything to do with politics,” and the show’s title was an immediate turnoff, even though the series also had a strong family element.
For Dungey, the final strike against The Mayor was that ratings were declining, not just on linear but even more importantly in delayed viewing numbers. “That’s the biggest signal that ultimately, for whatever reason, it’s a show that just isn’t connecting,” she said.
Last fall, ABC also pulled the Kyra Sedgwick drama Ten Days in the Valley from its schedule, and will burn off the remaining episodes on Saturdays. That show “didn’t get the level of marketing support I would have liked to have given it,” Dungey admitted.
As she looks ahead to ABC’s upfront and next season, Dungey said she’s hoping to find shows that are “lighter, brighter and more emotional,” particularly in light of the breakout success of The Good Doctor this season.
“Closed-telling storytelling is also important to us,” said Dungey, who is developing several police procedurals.
On the comedy front, family-based sitcoms will continue to be at the core of ABC’s comedy brand, but Dungey wants to “push the boundaries of what a family comedy actually means.”