Without Jimmy Kimmel, ABC’s Upfront Event Swapped Laughs for Nostalgia

Highlighted newly revived Roseanne and American Idol, soon-to-depart Scandal

Roseanne co-stars (l. to r.) Michael Fishman, Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne Barr, Lecy Goranson and John Goodman talked about next season's revival.
Heidi Gutman/ABC

Buyers knew going into ABC’s upfront presentation this year that they wouldn’t be hearing from Jimmy Kimmel—who stayed in L.A. to be close to his family following his newborn son’s open-heart surgery—but they also discovered that the presentation lacked the digital advertising bashing that NBCUniversal and Fox engaged in one day earlier.

Instead, ABC kept the focus on its shows, and after revealing its schedule—which includes a Roseanne revival—earlier in the day, it saved a few big announcements for its presentation at New York’s David Geffen Hall in Lincoln Center. Katy Perry will be a judge on the upcoming American Idol revival, and ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey has ordered a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff to aid midseason focusing on Seattle firefighters.

Ben Sherwood, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney Television Group, (who was introduced by Black-ish’s Anthony Anderson as “the whitest person in America”), mentioned that ABC was the first TV network to host an upfront event in 1962. “On behalf of the industry, I would like to say, we’re sorry.”

While Sherwood lamented that the audience would be missing “our annual, masochistic tradition of Jimmy Kimmel insults,” he read a letter written by Kimmel to the buyers: “As many of you know, I’m boycotting the ABC upfront this year to protest the cancellation of Dr. Ken. I’m very sorry I can’t be with you this year, and if you believe that, you’re just the kind of ad buyer we’re looking for!”

As Dungey later joked, “Jimmy is with people he truly cares about in L.A., so everybody wins!”

Even in his absence, Kimmel still made some waves at the event. Dungey announced he’ll return to host the Oscars again next year and that he and Justin Theroux have joined forces to provide a live sitcom special, in which comedians will act out classic sitcom scripts from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

Rita Ferro, who was named president of ad sales for Disney-ABC in February, made her Lincoln Center debut. “We are committed to making it easier for you to work across our brands and content,” said Ferro, emphasizing what she called the “Disney difference—our ability to deliver valuable audiences reaching literally every member of the family.”

She referenced an Accenture study, which said that ABC delivers 22 percent more ROI in nonsports content than its nearest competitor.

After Ferro, Dungey held court for most of the presentation. She talked about American Idol’s return next year, calling the show “one of television’s defining reality franchises.”

“American Idol set the standard for reality competition, but at its core, Idol is about the heartfelt, uplifting stories of people making their dreams come true,” Dungey said. “It’s a natural fit in the ABC lineup, and we’re pulling out all the stops to make Idol better than ever.”

While there was no expected announcement that Ryan Seacrest has officially signed on to return as host (he’s still in talks), Dungey discussed landing Perry as the first new Idol judge. “Katy is a superstar and a fantastic addition to the long list of great Idol judges,” she said.

(Idol isn’t the only Fox upfront mainstay that has relocated to ABC. The presentation opened with a musical performance by former Glee star Lea Michele, who stars in ABC’s new comedy The Mayor.)

Buyers seemed enthused by ABC’s trailers for The Good Doctor, a fall medical drama about an autistic surgeon played by Freddie Highmore, and comedy The Mayor about a rapper who runs for mayor as a publicity stunt and lands the job. Ten Days in Valley, starring Kyra Sedgwick as a single mom whose daughter goes missing, seems very on brand for an ABC drama.

Other fall shows included The Gospel of Kevin about a man ordered by God to make the world a better place, and Marvel’s Inhumans, which will premiere in IMAX theaters three weeks before it debuts on ABC.

To celebrate the upcoming revival of Roseanne, the original cast (Roseanne Barr, John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Fishman and Lecy Goranson) appeared onstage to engage in some awkward, stilted banter. “We did this show for years, and we thought we were done talking. But we found out we got a whole lot more to say,” said Barr. Added Metcalf, “Like 20 years’ worth.” Barr added, “This is going to be fun.”—then, after a long pause—“OK, bye.”

Dungey also showed trailers for midseason dramas Deception, about a disgraced magician who helps the FBI solve crimes; For the People from Shonda Rhimes, about six hotshot young lawyers; as well as comedies Splitting Up Together, in which a married couple splits after 12 years and continues to live together to raise the kids; and Alex, Inc., in which Zach Braff leaves his job for a startup.

Dungey gave special attention to midseason drama The Crossing, which she called “our biggest swing of the year” and “the can’t-miss drama of the year … this is truly exceptional storytelling.”

A tearful Kerry Washington and the Scandal cast were onstage to thank the network and advertisers and read a note from Shonda Rhimes—who was in L.A. editing Thursday’s season finale—about her decision to end the series after its seventh season next year: “Next year, we are going all out. Leaving nothing on the table … we are going to handle the end the way we like to handle the important things in our Scandal family: all together, white hats on, gladiators running full speed over a cliff.”

In a nod to ABC’s upcoming summer reality competition series Boy Band, the Backstreet Boys closed out the upfront event with their most famous song, “Everybody.”

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