With a month to go before the broadcast networks release their schedules for 2017-18, TV by the Numbers examines what’s working, what isn’t working and what’s needed at each of them.
The 2016-17 season hasn’t been an especially good one for ABC. Its adults 18-49 ratings have slipped a bit from last season (1.8 to 1.7), and maybe more importantly, its new shows — with a couple of exceptions — did next to nothing to shore up a network that depends heavily on aging series.
Despite all that, though, ABC has stability and decent numbers on part or all of six of the seven nights of the week. A non-disastrous development season could put the network back on decent footing.
Comedy blocks: The network has the clearest comedy brand on TV at the moment: family shows with specific points of view — including those of people of color — and big hearts. It’s not hard to see the Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday comedy blocks returning intact, or nearly so, next season (things don’t look so good for “The Real O’Neals” at the moment). Rookies “American Housewife” and “Speechless” have fit in seamlessly.
TGIT: “Grey’s Anatomy” is unkillable — 13 seasons in, it’s the No. 3 drama on broadcast TV this season — “Scandal” still has life and “How to Get Away with Murder” is healthy enough in the increasingly barren 10 o’clock landscape. The downside is the block doesn’t stay together all season, as “The Catch” has paled as a “HTGAWM” replacement for two seasons running.
Monday nights before 10: “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Bachelor” should be locked in for the foreseeable future.
What’s not working
New and new-ish dramas: “Designated Survivor” is probably getting renewed, but it’s the only first-year drama likely to come back. “Conviction” and “Notorious” laid eggs, and “Time After Time” lasted only five episodes before getting the boot. Second-year shows “Quantico” and “The Catch” followed marginal first-season numbers with worse ones this year, and “Secrets and Lies” fizzled after a layoff that lasted more than a year.
Sunday night: “Once Upon a Time” has been a valuable player for ABC for several years and will probably get a send-off season in the fall. But to say it’s ABC’s top Sunday show is to damn with the faintest of praise: None of the network’s other Sunday scripted shows have gotten above a 0.8 this season.
Help at 10 o’clock: This will be a recurring theme in this series of posts. Three of the five nights where ABC airs dramas at 10 p.m. are well below a 1.0 night-of average for the season. “Inhumans,” which has a straight-to-series order for next season, will probably split time with “Agents of SHIELD” (assuming the latter gets a final run), which might help a bit.
It’s pointless to relitigate the cancellation of “Castle” last year, but it lasted as long as it did on Mondays for a reason. A lighter drama in that vein makes sense for the hour following “Dancing” and “The Bachelor.”
Less ersatz Shonda, more original thinking: A commonality among the failed dramas this season is that they tried to ape the sexy-twisty-bonkers feel that’s the surface-level attraction of the shows from producer Shonda Rhimes. But shows like “Notorious” and “Conviction” seemed to stop at the marketing hook and failed to undergird the OMG! moments! with the attention to story and character Rhimes’ shows regularly display.
“Grey’s” and “Scandal” are what people think of when they think “ABC drama,” and that’s a good thing. But shows like the ones that tanked this season seem to take all the wrong messages from Shondaland’s successes — superficial “shockers” get stale quickly without characters viewers care about experiencing them.