Upfronts 2012: ABC looks to rebuild Sundays, beef up Fridays
NEW YORK — ABC is hoping the soap doesn’t entirely wash off on Sundays.
In announcing a slate of new prime-time shows for next season that includes six dramas and four sitcoms, Paul Lee, president of the ABC Entertainment Group, is looking to rebuild the network schedule on a competitive night, one that recently saw the retirement of long-running nighttime soap “Desperate Housewives.” The third-place network is nearing the end of a season that generated a few breakout hits, such as Sunday-night fantasy drama “Once Upon a Time,” but also more than a few duds, like the short-lived cross-dressing comedy “Work It.”
“It’s a great start, but there’s a lot of work to do,” said Lee, as he presented his lineup to advertisers at Lincoln Center that included appearances by cast members from the hit show “Modern Family” and another stinging monologue from the network’s late-night host, Jimmy Kimmel.
The network is essentially in the same position as last season with its average prime-time audience falling less than 1 percent to 8.4 million, according to Nielsen. But more troubling, its young-adult audience fell 4 percent, making the network fourth in that demo, behind Super Bowl-boosted NBC.
In a schedule he described as “doubling down,” Lee is out to shore up ABC's Sunday lineup by moving its sudser “Revenge” into the 9 p.m. slot, formerly occupied by “Desperate Housewives.” Though Lee praised it as being one of the season's most-buzzed-about shows, “Revenge” registered middling ratings.
“Sunday night will be a battle between good and evil from 8 all the way to 11,” Lee told a reporters in a conference call on Tuesday, alluding to the fairytale-themed “Once Upon a Time.”
The network’s other soap, “Nashville,” will take over “Revenge’s” 10 p.m. slot on Wednesdays — a former problem slot for the network that the drama seemed to have fixed. The new show will naturally feature plenty of music and stars Connie Britton (“American Horror Story,” “Friday Night Lights”) as a country star at her peak and another singer, played by Hayden Panettiere, on the rise.
The network isn’t ignoring its funny bone, however. After all: “It was just a few short years ago, it was pretty hard to find laughs on ABC,” joked Ed O’Neill, who stars as Jay on “Modern Family,” to the crowd.
Wednesday night will remain a strong comedy block for ABC with returning sitcoms “The Middle,” “Suburgatory” and “Modern Family.” Joining the lineup will be “The Neighbors,” which stars Jami Gertz and Lenny Venito as a couple who discover their new neighbors are aliens.
Meanwhile, the network will expanding its comedy to a few more nights. On Tuesdays, returning “Happy Endings” and “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apt. 23” will be sandwiched between the “Dancing With the Stars” results show and “Private Practice.” On Friday nights, historically a hard time to attract viewers, “Last Man Standing” and a new Reba McEntire comedy called “Malibu Country” will join the lineup beginning in November.
“We want to bring family comedies back on ABC on Fridays,” Lee said.
Reality favorites such as “The Bachelor,” “Shark Tank” and “Dancing with the Stars” will all be returning — "DWTS” will even get an “All Star” edition, something Kimmel noted was ironic: “How many times can we lie to you in a single title?” he quipped.
An upfront tradition, Kimmel once again mocked his own network and his boss. But the late-night host couldn’t resist going after rival network CBS, which again can boast the most viewers — though many have aged out of the advertiser-desired 18-49 demographic.
“They really do have their finger on the pulse of viewers who have almost no pulse,” said Kimmel. “CBS is going to stay in their lane — they’ll have their turn blinkers on the whole time, but they’ll stay in their lane.”
— Yvonne Villarreal
Photo: Cast of "Modern Family" at ABC's Upfront presentation. Credit: Ida Mae Astute / ABC.