ABC goes epic for the fall


Earlier, I sent an overview of ABC's fall schedule. (See previous blog.) Since then, the network has had its "upfront" presentation to advertisers -- and has left me quite optimistic. Here's the new version I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

TV viewers tend to shrug when a new
network programming chief arrives.

Most have the same Ivy League
background, the same trendy phrases, the same mixed success. But as
ABC unveiled its fall line-up, one thing was clear: Paul Lee has made
a difference.

Lee repeated to advertisers Tuesday his
theory that viewers expect more than something to fill a tiny
rectangle. “Many choose to watch in their living rooms, on
huge,flat-screen monitors.”

He's talked of shows that look and feel
epic – and has sometimes delivered. This season added two
movie-style series that will return (“Once Upon a Time,”
“Revenge”) and some that won't (“Missing,” “The River,”
“Pan Am”). Next year will bring more of that.

The biggest step involves the Sunday
spot vacated by “Desperate Housewives.” Instead of a copy, he's
moving “Revenge” there and following it with a new show.”This
is an aggressive move,” he said.

The new one, “666 Park Avenue,” is
a stylish drama about an upscale apartment where dreams come true –
at a Faustian price. “Talk about cinematic scope,” Lee said of
those two shows plus “Once.”

Some other shows have a similar movie
feel. “Last Resort” has a submarine crew refusing unsubstantiated
orders to fire a nuclear missile – then fortressing itself on an
island. The mid-season “Red Widow” has a mom leaping into her
late husband's tangled criminal world.

The comedies also reflect an offbeat
taste. Lee is giving his best spot (after “Modern Family”) to a
bizarre show about a gated community with people from the planet
Zabvron. He's renewing two borderline shows (“Happy Endings” and
“Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23”) and moving them to Tuesdays;
there, he said, they can be “edgy, sophisticated and, hopefully,
entirely inappropriate.”

Clearly, Lee is a different. He's an
Oxford grad, not an Ivy Leaguer; he's an Englishman who can actually
make the title “Suburgatory” sound pleasant.

Still, he does slip. He even scheduled
“Work It,” a guys-in-dresses comedy that was universally hated.
That :tells you what the British think of us,” Jimmy Kimmel, ABC's
latenight host, joked to advertisers.

He does aim beyond his Oxford roots.
The new schedule has:

– A double dose of country:
“Nashville” has Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights”) and
Hayden Panettiere (“Heroes”) as stars – a veteran and a hot
newcomer – reluctantly linked for a tour. “Malibu Country” has
Reba McEntire as the wife of a cheating Nashville singer; she moves
to their Malibu home with her mom (Lily Tomlin) and kids.

– Light comedies. “Something I've
wanted to do since I got here was to put family comedy back on Friday
nights.” He'll have two there, in a plan that gradually pushes ABC
from six comedies to 10.

– And one British transplant – but
not the upper-crust one you might suspect. He's adapting
“Mistresses,” a BBC show that mixes soap-opera plots with serious
writing and acting.

That show will have to wait for its
mid-season spot, as will “Red Widow” and the returning “Body of
Proof.” For the fall, Lee is gambling on shows that are serialized
and cinematic. The schedule:

– Mondays: “Dancing With the Starz”
8 p.m. (with “The Bachelor” in January); “Castle,”10.

--.Tuesdays: “Dancing” results, 8
p.m.; “Happy Endings,” 9 p.m.; “Don't Trust the B,” 9:30;
“Private Practice,” 10. (In January, with no “Dancing,” there
will be new comedies at 8 and 8:30.

– Wednesdays: “The Middle,” 8
p.m.; “Subrgatory,” 8:30; “Modern Family,” 9 p.m.; “The
Neighbors,” 9:30 p.m.; “Nashville,” 10.

– Thursdays: “Last Resort,” 8
p.m.; “Grey's Anatomy,” 9; “Scandal,” 10.

– Fridays: Season starts with “Shark
Tank” at 8; “What Would You Do?” at 9 and “20/20” at 10.
November has “Last Man Standing,” 8 p.m.; “Malibu Country,”
8:30;”Shark Tank,” 9; “20/20,” 10.

– Saturdays: College football in the
fall, then reruns.

– Sundays: “America's Funniest Home
Videos,” 7 p.m.; “Once Upon a Time,” 8; “Revenge,” 9; “666
Park Avenue,” 10.