What Does ABC's Future Look Like?
The biggest change on ABC's fall schedule this year is Tuesday. The network has expanded the night's comedy block from one hour to two, and as a result has moved The Middle to the night from Wednesday, where it has aired for seven seasons. With a move like this, The Middle could be in danger of low ratings. However, it has been such a stable performer that it is unlikely to experience ratings that are too low, even with a larger than usual drop between seasons. The rest of the night is much more concerning. Expectations for American Housewife are low, Fresh Off the Boat isn't very highly rated, and is now moving by an hour, and worst of all low-rated The Real O'Neals will be facing controversy heading into its second season due to an interview by series star Noah Galvin, and as a result the show has received little promotion. This of course is followed by the crumbling Agents of SHIELD, which must now air in the toxic Tuesdays at 10:00 timeslot (and if you don't believe that it's toxic, just look at ratings for Beyond the Tank). The first half hour of Tuesdays are looking to work, but the last hour and a half will likely struggle extremely, and the hour in between will likely be in between in the ratings as well,
Luckily, the picture is brighter for the rest of comedy on the network for the season, despite a new anchor on Wednesdays. Like The Middle, The Goldbergs will likely experience a larger than usual drop, but both shows are also normally quite stable, so The Goldbergs at 8:00 shouldn't look much different than if The Middle were still at 8:00. Speechless is the new comedy with more promise, and the 9:00 hour remains the same. Over on Fridays, the two multi-camera comedies are also staying put, though we should keep an eye on Dr. Ken's ratings. It has the advantages of being produced by ABC, being cheaper due to its format, and having less expected of it because of the night it airs on, but it still must maintain decent ratings, so it will need to stay stable. Season two will be the real test for the show.
From the ten comedies airing this fall plus the two midseason replacements, almost any number and combination could end up returning in 2017-18. At the very least, The Goldbergs and Black-ish are sure to return, because the former is one of ABC's three main comedies they rely on (and the other two are getting old) and the latter is entering its third full season (and is produced by ABC), so it's a lock for syndication purposes. If ABC is impressed with how the comedies perform this season, and probably unimpressed with their development slate, they could renew nine of their twelve comedies. I can't see a scenario where they renew any more, as they would not expand comedy by another hour after just expanding, and I doubt they would put only one new comedy on the fall schedule. Eight returning comedies on the fall schedule, with one returning one for midseason (probably Modern Family or Last Man Standing due to being expensive, or as a final season because the cast wants out) would be the maximum.
I mentioned that The Goldbergs and Black-ish were locks to return, but I have not yet mentioned why The Middle, Modern Family, and Last Man Standing are not. There are two reasons, and they are quite simple: age and cost. The one most obviously battling both of these is Modern Family. It has a large cast, who want to get paid more and more, while the ratings are declining. Also, the show has been on for seven years, and is now beginning its eighth. The cast is likely getting tired of the show, and the crew could be as well. The Middle isn't battling cost as much, but it is just as old as Modern Family, so the show could decide for itself that it's done. Last Man Standing, on the other hand, isn't quite as old, entering season six, but it stars Tim Allen, and his paycheck likely isn't small. What's also important to look at is how the network will do in the comedy department without these three veterans. They have The Goldbergs, which will likely continue to anchor Wednesday night, and Black-ish is a decent performer, so it could possibly anchor a night. Fresh off the Boat and Dr. Ken aren't failures, but they aren't very strong, so I doubt the network will rely on them in the future. I'm doubtful that either will pass season five. And who knows how long Black-ish will go on. Can we really see it in season six or seven?
It isn't just comedy that's getting old at ABC, though their oldest drama doesn't seem to be ending any time soon. Grey's Anatomy will be anchoring Thursday nights for the third consecutive year. Fellow TGIT drama Scandal, however, may not last as long. Shonda Rhimes doesn't believe that Scandal is a show that will continue on for a long time like Grey's Anatomy, which is why I think that season seven, or even the upcoming season six, could be the show's last. Third-oldest of the Shonda bunch, How to Get Away with Murder is still young, but how long will it last? The show's ratings aren't as high as the other two shows, and season three could be a weak year for it without a Scandal lead-in during the fall. I doubt that Murder and Scandal would end in the same year, so I think that it will go on one or two years longer than Scandal, but at most that gives it a six-season run, near the end of which it will likely be seriously struggling in the ratings. Meanwhile, The Catch is a flop nearly as bad in the drama category as The Real O'Neals is in comedy. Unless Shonda Rhimes can find a new hit, which Still Star-Crossed almost certainly won't be, considering the lack of success for period dramas and that ABC doesn't plan on airing it on Thursday this season (though plans do change), Grey's Anatomy will likely be her only hit drama on the air quite soon.
While Shonda's dramas seem to be dying, bar Grey's Anatomy, perhaps we can find drama success elsewhere on ABC. However, that hope begins to die when we remember what the other returning dramas this season on ABC are: Agents of SHIELD, Once Upon a Time, Secrets & Lies, Quantico, and American Crime. As mentioned earlier, SHIELD is dying, and not slowly. Once Upon a Time enters season six this fall, which is an old age for genre dramas, and additionally is no longer the hit it once was. Secrets & Lies seemed to have momentum in season one, but that was in spring 2015, and many fans may not be interested in the new case this season without Ryan Phillippe. Quantico's spring ratings were weak, and it may not even score a third season (and if it does get a third season, it will likely go the Revenge route, four-and-done). American Crime is a limited series that has never been and never will be a hit. Wow, that is bleak. The hope for ABC in drama seems to be with their freshman slate, where despite the very likely failures of Still Star-Crossed and Time After Time (the next Forever, but in a slightly less troubled timeslot), Conviction or Notorious could be a decent performer that ABC keeps around. I believe that the real potential for ABC's drama future lies in Designated Survivor, a potential hit starring Kiefer Sutherland airing Wednesdays at 10:00.
ABC could end up renewing eight dramas this season, only one less than they renewed this time around, but even if they give eight renewals, Once Upon a Time and Scandal will likely be entering final seasons, while How to Get Away with Murder, Quantico, and American Crime would be weak. The future seems to lie with Grey's Anatomy and the new shows, which is not a good situation to be in. Grey's Anatomy is old, and we have no idea at this point how the new shows will perform. We can simply be optimistic for the three fall freshmen, Designated Survivor with the most potential, and Conviction and Notorious to keep an eye on. If ABC can air solidly rated dramas in the 8:00 hour on Sundays and Thursdays, and keep the 10:00 hour from failing, they should be fine. However, this depends on the new shows of this season and next. They are responsible for keeping Sundays from falling and patching up the black hole that is Tuesdays at 10:00.
Taking a quick look at unscripted, everything seems fine at ABC. America's Funniest Home Videos keeps Sundays at 7:00 looking alive, Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelor keep Mondays well rated throughout the year, and Shark Tank and 20/20 provide Fridays with decent ratings. The four that have been on for a long time look like they will continue to be on for a long time. Shark Tank doesn't look like it will continue on forever, but it isn't anything that ABC needs to be worrying about replacing in the near future.
ABC's future in comedy looks better than its future in drama. However, both require strong new shows to come along soon, to replace aging comedies and dying dramas. Their future success depends on the timing of the arrival of new hits. Drama needs new hits quickly for Sundays and the 10:00 hour. Comedy needs new hits before the ones coming up on their eighth seasons end.
What do you think that ABC's future looks like? Leave your thoughts in the comments!