The Runway – ABC Upfronts: What Got Picked Up, What Didn’t, And Why

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and , contributors to The Tracking Board’s annual Runway series, have been dissecting the pilots, trends, networks and needs for the 2016 TV season. This week, in the midst of the network upfronts, they’re teaming up to discuss the latest updates to the fall schedules of NBC, Fox, ABC, CBS, and The CW.

On Tuesday, Jimmy Kimmel – who himself inked a new 3-year deal with ABC this week – opened the Alphabet’s upfront presentation with a hearty roast of the network. Newly sworn-in programming chief Channing Dungey then took to the stage to reveal some of the series that will join ABC’s Fall schedule. The pick-ups from ABC’s drama pilot development season include Designated Survivor, Conviction, and Notorious. ABC’s comedy pilot development season pick-ups include Speechless, Downward Dog, and Imaginary Mary.

Check out all of the trailers from ABC’s upfront presentation and see how ABC’s Fall schedule is shaping up.

As for the pilots ABC picked up? Take it away, Andrew and Ashish…


Andrew: The first Fall season after a new network president is installed is always interesting. Looks like Channing Dungey is doing the same as the other networks and holding back a lot of new shows for midseason. Given what she has to work with, and the current state of the network, it’s hard to argue with that strategy.

Conviction gets the Monday post-Dancing With the Stars slot. The trailer looks “on brand” with ABC, and as I think I also said in the script review, serviceable. American Housewife is sliding into the Tuesday comedy block. Again, “on brand” with ABC, offering up a family comedy that like Fresh Off the Boat finds its core group as fish out of water in a very specific universe. The trailer, like the script, doesn’t quite have the edge that former ABC show Suburgatory brought to the`burbs and might not find an audience.
 
Speechless gets a nice Wednesday time slot between The Goldbergs and Modern Family. I thought this would be a long shot pilot, but the trailer has some nice humor and pathos. Designated Survivor looks like a Clancy-esque thriller that should find an audience. And Notorious gets the competitive 9pm Thursday slot, where it likely will struggle before Scandal returns midseason. Time After Time, a script I liked that I didn’t feel had mass appeal, is given a Sunday night midseason slot.
 
That leaves Downward Dog (a Paul Lee pet project) and Still Star-Crossed (a Shondaland Shakespearean drama) looking for a time slot. They might be waiting a while.
 
Ashish, what’s your take on the drama pickups? I only see Designated Survivor as making a Nielsen impact (for at least the pilot), but feel like Notorious and Conviction reach the demo ABC is aiming for (though not as well as the Shonda shows). How about the comedies? Did the American Housewife trailer elicit any laughs? Is Speechless going to resonate with viewers? And most importantly, are you sad the talking dog show is on the sidelines?
 

Ashish: Man, that’s a lot of family comedies.

The American Housewife trailer got a couple of laughs out of me, but mostly because I love Katy Mixon. I agree that this might struggle to find an audience. Its universe, specific as it is, lacks freshness. The Speechless trailer felt a bit muddled, and I think the show might take a while to find its focus. Given the subject matter, I was hoping for more emotion.
 
I’m inclined to club Speechless with Downward Dog in that they both feel quite different, tonally, from what’s on ABC. I’m definitely sad I might have to wait to hear the talking dog talk, because I really liked that voice. So unexpected. Weirdly Millennial Dog is the polar opposite of Imaginary Mary, who creeped me out a little bit, to be honest.
 
As for the dramas, Designated Survivor looks great. The trailer hits the underdog note relentlessly, and of all the ABC shows, this is the only one that fills me with an urgent need to watch it. But other than that, it’s clear ABC’s going soapy this fall.
 
Both Conviction and Notorious seem to be working overtime to look “cool.” Conviction looks like it might have legs, and I’ll watch Hayley Atwell in anything. But she’s coming off Agent Carter, which struggled with ratings. Let’s hope Conviction doesn’t meet the same fate. Notorious looks more hectic, but I’m a sucker for conflict-of-interest after Billions. Like you said in your review, this leans heavily on its leads. Which means chemistry is going to be everything. I’m not sure I see that yet.
 
Since I didn’t read these pilots, I’d love to hear your thoughts on script-to-screen, Andrew. Have the comedies turned out the way you pictured them? How does Imaginary Mary face off against Downward Dog? Also, is ABC going for family comedy overkill with not one, not two, but ten family comedies on its fall schedule? And who’s got the cooler time machine: ABC or NBC?
 

Andrew: You’re absolutely right about that Imaginary Mary creepy thing. What the heck was that??? I thought from the script, it would be a Drop Dead Fred style imaginary friend. That imaginary thing was just weird, and the Macarena song was completely out of nowhere. That’s one for sure where the script-to-screen changes felt glaring.

The other script-to-screen change was Speechless going for what seemed a broader jokey tone on screen. I get that though — if you’re part of a comedy block, you have to be funny. That trailer seems to have a lot of fans on the internet, so maybe the show will find an audience.
As for the dramas, Conviction is exactly how I pictured it. Designated Survivor is exactly how I pictured it. And Notorious is pretty much on par with the script. So if those shows don’t work, it’s not because the production crew didn’t realize the visions of the writers.
The family comedy glut is a problem. There comes a point where they’re going to cannibalize each other. A normal human can’t sit through 2 hours of family comedies in a night. Now they’ll have two nights like that! That’s why Downward Dog or Imaginary Mary might eventually get a time slot, with the former more likely to step up first.
As for coolest time machine, here’s my ranking: 1. Fox’s duffel bag 2. NBC’s gyroscope thingy 3. ABC’s time machine
Since we’ve exhausted talking about the new shows Ashish, let’s talk ABC in general. Which ABC family comedies will get cancelled first? Would you have scheduled two full hours of comedy on back-to-back nights? And if Designated Survivor gets good ratings, will ABC next development season pick up more bigger, flashier, feature-like scripts?
 

Ashish: The Real O’Neals might be the first to go, by the looks of it. The others are quite steady, so it’s a bit difficult to predict which ones will get cancelled first. The Last Man Standing is starting to look tired, and I’d say it’s heading towards sunset too.

I totally wouldn’t have have scheduled two full hours of family comedy on back-to-back nights. ABC might be opening itself up to choice overload, and the new shows might suffer as a result. If I’m a viewer who already watches two ABC family comedies regularly, will I want to watch two more that promise more of the same? You’re right about the cannibalization. It’s a show-eat-show fall.
ABC’s next development season will be very interesting, not least because it’ll be Dungey’s first at the helm. With a stable roster of on-brand comedies that isn’t exactly begging for expansion, they might want to look at growing their drama universe. We can expect something from Grey’s Anatomy’s Bill Harper and Stacy McKee, who both have new overall deals with ABC. I’m still pretty bummed to see Agent Carter go, so maybe something from Marvel/Disney as well.
Bigger and flashier? Yes and yes.

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Andrew Woodberry & Ashish Mehta | Contributors

is a freelance script reader, currently reading for a coverage company and a film financing platform, among other individual clients in the US and UK. You can find out more about his services at http://scriptexaminer.com, or write to him at scriptexaminer@outlook.com.

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One Response to The Runway – ABC Upfronts: What Got Picked Up, What Didn’t, And Why

  1. Well reading this a year later is nice considering how American Housewife didn’t struggle to find an audience. Same with Speecheless Tuesday comedy block did fine as well except for 9:30

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