ABC Goes for Big Names, Big Laughs
ABC is banking on star-driven comedies and big-event dramas to bolster its lineup as its still-popular top dramas show signs of aging.
A schedule to be unveiled to advertisers today includes 10 new series - the most of any network - including sitcoms with Kelsey Grammer (as a laid-off exec in "Hank"), Courteney Cox (as a newly single mom with a teenage son in "Cougar Town") and Patricia Heaton (as the matriarch of a Midwestern family in "The Middle").
But a big push for fall is a fourth comedy, "Modern Family", about three diverse suburban couples from the producers of "Frasier". The entire pilot will be screened for advertisers.
ABC's goals: "We were looking to establish a comedy presence. Our Wednesday night has certainly been challenging for us and is something we wanted to improve on, and we were looking for event-style series" to generate buzz, says ABC Entertainment Group chief Steve McPherson.
In that corner he sees a remake of 1980s sci-fi series "V'', due in midseason; "Happy Town", a murder mystery with the dark tone of "Twin Peaks"; and "Flash Forward", which along with "Family" is a key promotional priority.
"Forward", a mystery starring Joseph Fiennes, imagines that everyone blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds and sees visions of their futures. It's aimed at tiding over the "Lost" crowd until that series returns in January. Look for other new comedies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and after "Dancing With the Stars" in late fall.
McPherson says none of ABC's top-tier shows will switch time slots next season, but he sees opportunity for growth at 10 ET/PT with NBC's move of Jay Leno to that hour. "Castle", "Private Practice" and "20/20" are expected to remain in their current slots, joined on Tuesdays by new drama "The Forgotten", about amateur sleuths solving cases of unidentified victims, and on Wednesdays by "Eastwick", a remake of John Updike's "Witches of Eastwick".
"'Castle'" has shown a lot of promise," McPherson says, capturing attention in an otherwise barren spring where "we tried to launch too many things." ''Cupid", "In the Motherhood" and "The Unusuals " were canceled, and the outlook isn't bright for "Samantha Who?." But "Scrubs" (including star Zach Braff) and "Better Off Ted" will be back at some point, and for midseason, ABC also has "The Deep End", about a young attorney at a Hollywood law firm.