Up Front at the Upfronts: ABC

SHIELD

This week in New York City, the four broadcast networks are unveiling their fall schedules, complete with renewals, cancellations and pickups. Though a volley of announcements earlier this week robbed the announcements Up Front at the Upfronts: ABCof much of their suspense, and the very idea of a fixed schedule is irrelevant to a large percentage of the TV viewing public, these announcements remain interesting as the last vestiges of an outmoded business model.

ABC is up second. Click here for the network’s fall schedule with Vulture TV reporter Joe Adalian’s analysis. Notable points:

Larry Willmore

Diversity Initiative: Last season, Fox earned praise for its demonstrated commitment to color-blind casting with diverse casts on a wide range of shows from Sleepy Hollow and Almost Human to Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the late, lamented Enlisted. This season, ABC is aggressively taking up that mantle with two of its highest-profile new shows starring prominent black actors. Future Colbert Report successor Larry Willmore serves as the executive producer of Black-ish, a comedy starring Anthony Anderson as a father concerned that his children aren’t staying true to their cultural heritage. This show will air in the post-Modern Family timeslot at 9:30 on Wednesdays, where numerous shows have gone to die in recent years, but this show is at least more creatively promising than the toxic Mixology, which was mercifully cancelled after just one critically reviled season.

Meanwhile, Shonda Rhimes cements her position as one of the most prolific and influential TV creators in the business with an entire Thursday night of ABC programming devoted to her shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and the new drama How to Solve a Murder, starring Oscar winner Viola Davis. Rhimes is blazing a trail for black female creators/moguls on network television, perhaps setting a precedent for future networks to look at when considering who creates their shows and who stars in them.

Trophy Wife

Goldbergs But No Trophy: ABC’s sneakily successful sitcom The Goldbergs, starring Jeff Garlin and Wendi McLendon-Covey as wacky parents living in 1980s suburbia, gained critical momentum as its first season went on, and it separated itself in the ratings from its timeslot successor Trophy Wife. The Goldbergs is moving to Wednesdays at 8:30 next season, benefiting from The Middle as its lead-in. Instead of moving Trophy Wife to 9:30 after Modern Family, ABC cancelled the show before it could get that chance. Had ABC handled this show properly, it might have become a worthy commercial companion to Modern Family. Instead, it will be remembered as a sweet, pleasurable, wonderfully cast and frequently hilarious sitcom that never had the chance to earn the audience it deserved. There are worse ways to go out, I suppose.

Peggy Carter

Not Quite a Marvel Yet: ABC announced Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a year ago this week with the hope that it would become a flagship for the network and a synergistic booster for the wildly successful Marvel films. Instead, the show sputtered along for much of its first season before getting energized by the events of the Captain America sequel that came out a few weeks ago. ABC couldn’t abandon the show after one season given the number of corporate overlords invested in its success. Instead, the network has shifted the show to 9:00 on Tuesdays, after two new comedies that seem doomed to fail. (One of them is called Selfie, after all. That word might be an anachronism come September, for all we know.) Perhaps with lower expectations and a season of trial-and-error, the shows’ Whedon-adjacent executive producers will find a way to make this show an essential companion to the movies, rather than an acceptable diversion for devoted Marvel fans.

Far more promising in that respect is Agent Carter, a midseason series that will fill the gap during Agents‘ midseason hiatus. Carter stars Hayley Atwell from the first Captain America as Peggy Carter in post-World War II America, conducting missions and dealing with the bewildering loss of her lover Steve Rogers to the space-time continuum. Atwell is a star worth watching, and this show has far more potential as a companion to the Marvel movies than Agents because it’s free to explore anywhere without running up against the constraints of the movies’ timeline. There’s hope for Marvel television on ABC yet. And if not, they always have Netflix.

Gruffudd

First Impressions: Though the title is off-putting, Selfie has potential as a vehicle for Doctor Who favorite Karen Gillan, assuming the show deals with her accent smoothly. (Given that the show is loosely based on My Fair Lady, the accent is critical to the show’s creative success.) Forever, which will follow Agents on Tuesday nights, sounds like a dud in the making, with wet blanket Ioan Gruffudd of the Fantastic Four starring as a medical examiner who’s inexpicably immortal. For every intriguing departure from convention, like the midseason musical fairytale Galavant, there’s a generic sitcom like Manhattan Love Story. I continue to be baffled by the continued employment of Paul Lee as ABC’s head of programming, especially considering that the network was by far the least successful of the four broadcasters this season. Few of these new shows seem like guaranteed hits out of the gate.

Obligatory caveat: I’m willing and hoping to be surprised.

Up Next: CBS.

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