ABC doesn’t have what’s normally considered a “franchise” show. Unlike the far-flung “NCIS” agents on CBS, the ever-growing corps of Chicago public servants on NBC and the various DC Comics heroes on The CW, ABC doesn’t have a crossover-friendly shared world on any of its dramas.
Yet as Thursday’s return of “Scandal” and the TGIT-branded lineup shows, maybe that definition of “franchise” is a little bit narrow.
The three shows in the TGIT lineup — “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” — are different types of dramas that take place in three different cities, and there’s been no indication that any of them share a fictional world with any of the others. What they do have in common, however, is executive producer Shonda Rhimes, one of the very few TV producers whose name is about as well-known as any of the actors on her shows.
Rhimes’ shows aren’t as close-ended as other franchises often are — “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” are pretty much the antithesis of a procedural. But just as “NCIS” fans know that Gibbs or Hanna or Pride will use cool tech and old-school smarts to close their cases week to week, Shondaland regulars know they’ll see multi-dimensional women front and center, frequent plot swerves and high emotion every time they tune in.
With “Scandal” pushed to a January start by Kerry Washington’s pregnancy, the network opted not to hang the TGIT label on its fall lineup, which included “Notorious” in the 9 o’clock spot. That turned out to be a wise move — “Notorious” whiffed in its fall run, averaging a 0.9 rating in adults 18-49 the night it aired, even as “Grey’s” remained strong and “How to Get Away” held its own, doing slightly better than the average for all 10 p.m. shows on the broadcast networks.
With “Scandal” returning Thursday and the TGIT brand at full strength, all three shows benefited. “Grey’s Anatomy” (2.6 in adults 18-49, 9.6 million viewers) and “How to Get Away with Murder” (1.5, 5.4 million) each had their biggest ratings of the season, and “Scandal” (2.0, 7.6 million) had its best numbers since midway through last season.
Numbers like that show the power of both the TGIT branding — which ABC earned (justifiable) praise for creating when it first scheduled the three Shondaland shows together in 2014-15 — and of a name brand like Rhimes herself. Excluding sports and specials, Thursday was ABC’s second highest-rated night of the season so far, trailing only the Wednesday of premiere week.
The promos featuring TGIT stars Washington, Ellen Pompeo and Viola Davis are likely to be the only crossovers between the three shows ABC ever puts on screen. And the network will probably keep looking for a franchise show of the Chicago or “NCIS” variety, as well it should: Audiences have shown a willingness to get behind them.
But to say ABC doesn’t have a franchise now would be to ignore that three of the network’s four highest-rated dramas all come from the same place.