ABC Is Displacing Shark Tank and Once Upon a Time to Prepare for American Idol’s Arrival

3 long-running series shift to new nights ahead of the midseason hope

American Idol won't premiere until midseason, but Shark Tank and Once Upon a Time are already on the move. Sources: ABC
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Once Upon a Time, Shark Tank and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fans are going to have a harder time finding their shows as the new season begins, and it’s all because of American Idol.

Each of the shows is being displaced from its time slot after several years. Shark Tank is moving from Friday at 9 p.m. to Sunday at 9 p.m., with Season 9 premiering on Sunday night. Once Upon a Time, which aired for six seasons on Sundays at 8 p.m., is moving to Friday at 8 for its Season 7 debut next week. Then, after Marvel’s Inhumans finishes its eight-episode season later this fall in Shark Tank’s former time slot, it will pass the baton to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which had spent its first four seasons on Tuesdays.

“We started with Idol and backed into the rest of the schedule.”
Andy Kubitz, evp, program planning and scheduling at ABC Entertainment

While the scheduling moves might be disruptive initially for viewers, ABC said it was more about shifting some of its chess pieces around ahead of the midseason arrival of its most-anticipated freshman series, a revival of American Idol. The network’s decision to revive the show, which ran for 15 seasons on Fox, was openly questioned by its broadcast rivals during May’s upfront events, although buyers are optimistic about its return.

“We started with Idol and backed into the rest of the schedule,” said Andy Kubitz, evp, program planning and scheduling at ABC Entertainment. And while ABC hasn’t yet officially announced exactly where the show will air on its schedule—“Idol could go many places,” Kubitz said—all signs point to a Sunday time slot.

Not only would Sundays keep Idol from competing with broadcast’s other singing competition series, The Voice, but it’s also one of ABC’s only nights that isn’t already claimed by a themed programming block. The network airs comedies on Tuesday and Wednesday, has Shonda Rhimes’ TGIT dramas on Thursday, and alternates between Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor on Monday.

At the same time, the network has struggled for years to find suitable schedule companions for both Once Upon a Time and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (the latter show has aired on 8, 9, and 10 on Tuesdays).

“We’ve tried multiple times to get an audience flow to come out of Once, to come out of S.H.I.E.L.D. when it was at 8 o’clock and when it was at 9 o’clock, and they have such very unique audiences,” Kubitz said. “So on what night can you have a core audience that will go anywhere with them and build on it?”

The answer was Friday, which would also allow serialized shows like Once and S.H.I.E.L.D. to run mostly interrupted.

“Whereas on Sunday night, we’re looking at the American Music Awards, we have the Oscars, we have Sunday Night Football [on NBC]–it’s a hugely competitive night that we have to struggle with in order to program for the entire season,” Kubitz said.

But the Friday shift then meant finding a new home for 9 p.m. mainstay Shark Tank, whose presence helped propel ABC to victories in the 18-49 demo on Fridays for much of its run on the night.

By default, Sunday was the only other available night, and ABC had already created a successful reality block during the summer with its “Sunday Fun & Games” lineup of Celebrity Family Feud, Steve Harvey’s Funderdome and The $100,000 Pyramid.

“We found reality working really well for us in the summer, so why not build another night like that?” Kubitz said.

When (sorry, if) Idol lands on Sundays early next year, ABC will shift Shark Tank elsewhere and have more flexibility as other shows go on hiatus. (The network has frequently used Shark Tank repeats to plug unexpected holes in its schedule.)

“Shark Tank is very versatile,”Kubitz said. “It can move around the schedule easier than many scripted shows, and that could also be why it went there.”

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.