ABC Upfronts 2014: emphasis is on big names, diversity

ABC presented its 2014-2015 primetime schedule live from New York’s Lincoln Center late Tuesday afternoon.

After an opening montage of highlights from all of the Disney brands, Anne Sweeney, president of Disney/ABC Television Group, touted the strength of the network’s daytime lineup, noting in particular that The Chew is daytime’s fastest growing program and Good Morning America is still No. 1 in its timeslot. Sweeney also noted that the network’s Watch ABC app will soon feature multi-cam viewing that will allow digital viewers to watch their favorite shows from multiple points of view.

After Geri Wang, the network’s president of sales, took over to tout the network’s cross-platform marketability, it was ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee’s show. “Our shows rock. That’s the upfront. Want to go to the pub?” he cracked.

RELATED: ABC 2014-2015 primetime schedule

Lee explained that the network is defined by passion, citing Scandal, The Bachelor, Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family and Castle as examples. Boasting that the network has been No. 1 in the all-important 18-49 demo for 4 years (he really meant 4 weeks and corrects himself later), Lee said ABC plotted to bolster that success by approaching some of entertainment’s best storytellers — Shonda Rhimes, John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), Dan Fogelman (The Neighbors) among them — and asking them to bring  their passion projects to the net. More on those later.

Before launching into the weekly schedule (starting with Wednesday!), Lee explained that the network’s new programming reflects the changing face America — i.e. plenty of ethnically diverse offerings on the horizon — and that they plan to sandwich promising new offerings amid ratings winners in hopes of supplying them with a ready-made enthusiastic audience.

Lee said that Wednesday nights will stay all about the family comedy, kicking off, as always, with The Middle. The network’s midseason retro charmer The Goldbergs cozies into the 8:30 slot in hopes of growing its audience with The Middle/Modern Family faithful. In the 9:30 position is new sitcom Black-ish from executive producers/costars Laurence Fishburne and Anthony Anderson. The show’s “will being rich make us too, you know, white-ish” — hip-hop bar mitzvah, anyone? — premise looks kinda squirmy, as was Fishburne jokingly referring to the show as “Foolish… Turkish?

LAURENCE FISHBURNE, ANTHONY ANDERSONBut the assembled crowd seemed to enjoy the sizzle reel, particularly when Tracee Ellis Ross, as Anderson’s biracial wife, reacts to his calling her not entirely black by telling him to tell that to her hair and her butt.

Nashville rounds out the night.

Thursday nights, says Lee, are a veritable “Shonda-land” — beginning with Grey’s at 8, followed by Scandal at 9 and Rhimes’ new offering, How to Get Away with Murder at 10. Calling Rhimes “the Charles Dickens of the 21st century … if Dickens had been black and a woman,” Lee surrenders the stage to Rhimes and Murder star Viola Davis to introduce the drama about a tough-as-nails legal eagle and law professor seeking a few good students to join her firm.

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When Murder ends its run in March, Secrets and Lies — a 10-episode murder mystery starring Ryan Phillippe and Juliette Lewis — will take its place. If the show proves a hit, the next season will feature a new case and new suspect a la AMC’s The Killing with a dash of True Detective. I think.

Taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it … much” approach to a successful Friday lineup, only the new sitcom Cristela — which the network touts as a sort of Hispanic Rosanne (and which actually does look pretty amusing) — joins Last Man Standing, Shark Tank and 20/20.

Saturday remains all about the sports. Again, if it ain’t broke…

Nothing new on Sunday, either, until Resurrection and Once Upon a Time take their mid-season breaks and are replaced by the Dan Fogelman/Alan Menken collaboration Galavant (a half-hour fairytale comedy with a Menken-esque musical bent) and American Crime, Ridley’s examination of race and crime that stars Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman.

With the stalwart Castle and Dancing with the Stars still nicely holding their own on Mondays, no changes are planned.

Tuesdays are for the young’uns with Selfie — a kind of My Fair Lady for the Snapchat/Twitter crowd — and Manhattan Love Story, which is about, you know, that with a he-said, she-said feel. After Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, the new drama Forever — featuring the Fantastic Four franchise’s Ioan Gruffudd as a perpetually-resurrecting medical examiner. The tagline is “He can solve any mystery except his own.”

After a little discussion of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D  origin story Agent Carter, it’s time Jimmy Kimmel to entertain the crowd with an interesting blend of ABC-bashing comedy and a fairly solid discourse of the other networks’ upfronts thus far.

Some highlights:

“My favorite part of the upfront so far is hearing Paul say ‘Blackish.’ Hearing Paul say ‘Blackish’was the most white-ish thing I’ve ever heard.”

“The ABC I work at is not No. 1. In fact, we might need to crash on your sofa for a while.”

“Most of our new shows are superheros or fairytales. We may be a terrible network, but we are great birthday party for a 6-year-old.”

“This is a show for people who love everything about Batman …except Batman.” — on FOX’s upcoming GOTHAM.

“Did you hear that, Paul? You can buy Nielsen ratings now. Our problems are solved. … He’s back there doing a musical to himself.”

“Don’t get attached to any of these shows because most of them won’t survive. It’s like adopting a kitten with cancer. [Audience groans] Too much? Oh then you’ll hate our new show, Kittens with Cancer.

And on that note …
…let’s talk the midseason.

Upcoming dramas include Members Only and Astronaut Wives Club, and the comedy Fresh off the Boat —a kind of Asian Goldbergs based on the memoir of chef Eddie Wong.

Then Lee introduces the network’s heaviest hitters of the new crop of shows, neither of which have firmed-up timeslots. Steven Spielberg’s The Whispers is based on a Ray Bradbury tale and, from the looks of the genuinely goosebumpy clip, concerns invisible aliens turning children into inadvertent murderers. And that’s just the beginning of the troubles. Note to Revenge fans: Looks like The Whispers would be why Barry Sloane’s Aiden just got the life snuffed out of him by Victoria in the season finale.

the whispers abcLee saves what he calls “our biggest swing of the year” for last, calling John Ridley’s American Crime, the most powerful piece of television he has possibly ever seen. Ridley says the only mandate the network gave him was to be bold, so he crafted a show that traces a single crime from the viewpoints of everyone it touches, examining race in a way that hasn’t been done before.

Lee closes out the presentation with a salute to a moment he says they are especially proud of — tomorrow night’s union of Modern Family‘s Mitchell and Cam, played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet. “We’re expecting about 13.3 million people, Ferguson cracked. “Catering has been a nightmare!”

the whispers abc

Photos: ABC

About Lori Acken 1195 Articles
Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.