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ABC Upfronts Preview: First Look at New Shonda Rhimes, Kiefer Sutherland, Hayley Atwell Shows

New ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey shares her plans for fall.

(updated Tuesday 12 p.m. ET with scheduling/strategy information) In Shonda Rhimes ABC trusts. Next year the Alphabet network
is counting on the mega showrunner more than ever, as Rhimes will executive
produce five shows on ABC next season — “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” “The Catch” and newcomer “Still Star-Crossed.”

“Scandal” will hold until winter to accommodate star Kerry Washington’s pregnancy, while “The Catch” and “Still Star-Crossed” will also wait until midseason. But nonetheless, Rhimes’ five-show tally is on par with fellow TV titans Dick Wolf at NBC and Greg Berlanti at The CW, both of whom also front five series at those networks.

But at ABC, the dependency on Rhimes is all the more critical, as the network
cuts loose veteran series like “Castle” and “Nashville.” That means ABC is suddenly without shows on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 10
p.m. — a difficult time slot these days, as audiences flock to cable or their

“They’ve got a lot to fill,” said one rival executive. “They need a lot. They keep churning stuff in and it all kind of looks the same and feels the same.”

READ MORE: Fox Upfronts Preview: First Look at ’24 Legacy,’ ‘Prison Break,’ ‘Star’ and Other New Shows

The big news at ABC this year was regime change: Entertainment president Paul Lee, who often championed quirky fare like the musical comedy “Galavant” and dark serialized dramas like “The Family,” exited the network in mid-February. His replacement, Channing Dungey, was previously ABC’s drama head and worked closely with Rhimes in developing her “TGIT” hits.

Dungey’s sensibility was already felt on ABC’s airwaves, but it’s Dungey’s boss, Disney/ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood, who is exerting much more say in next season’s schedule. Insiders have suggested that Sherwood would like to steer ABC toward fare with potentially more broad appeal (and away from serialized fare, although that’s Rhimes’ specialty), such as the new legal drama “Conviction,” starring Hayley Atwell.

One agent was impressed that Sherwood was willing to get rid of things that weren’t working, even though they were important franchises in the Disney universe. “He canceled ‘The Muppets’ and he canceled the Marvel show that wasn’t working [‘Agent Carter’] and he killed the Marvel pilot [‘Marvel’s Most Wanted’],” he said. “So Ben Sherwood corporately has asserted himself.”

In a year where vertical integration continues to be paramount — most networks will pick a show it owns over one it doesn’t — ABC actually ordered a surprising number of series from outside studios. (ABC Studios owns a financial stake in most of them, but isn’t lead studio on several of them.) That may also be a sign that, as the network looks to rebuild, it kept an open-door policy this year.

On the comedy front, ABC continues to excel in family sitcoms, and the network looks to continue to expand that streak by ordering four new half-hours for next season. (That’s more than CBS or Fox, both of which arguably need more live-action sitcom hits than ABC.) ABC will front two-hour, four-comedy blocks on both Tuesday and Wednesday, plus two more comedies on Friday. That grand total of 10 sitcoms is far and away the most half-hours of any network.

Season-to-date, ABC is averaging 6.8 million viewers in primetime, placing it third among the four major broadcast networks. Among adults 18-49, ABC is currently in fourth place (1.8), a tenth of a ratings point behind third-place Fox. ABC saw its ratings slump in the winter as its flagship shows went on hiatus, and the network replaced them with limited-run series (“bridge shows”) that didn’t fare as well. When the fall shows returned in spring, ratings were down (even for “TGIT”).

Read More: Network TV Carnage: What’s Cancelled, What’s Renewed and What’s New

We asked ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey to fill out our Upfront Survey. Here’s her take on what’s to come:

1. What were your main goals this development cycle?  Our main goal was to strengthen our position in the 10 p.m. time period [which remains important for TV stations, as that hour leads into local newscasts], and to expand our roster of family comedies [currently found on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights].

2. What were you most proud of this past TV season? Introducing Priyanka Chopra, a global superstar, to the U.S. audience via our drama “Quantico” [which has been renewed for a second season].

3. What is your TV guilty pleasure right now? It’s a tossup between HGTV’s “House Hunters International,” HGTV’s “Property Brothers” and the HBO drama “Vinyl.”

4. What is the biggest game changer (or disrupter) in the TV biz this year?  Studios are now more willing to allow “in-season stacking rights” on series, which means every episode can be made available via video on demand — allowing viewers to catch up. [Until recently, networks were only allowed to showcase five episodes of a show on VOD at any given time.]

5. How would you change pilot season? Pilot season can be an illuminating process for some shows. The trick is realizing that certain projects are better developed over a longer time frame.

READ MORE: NBC Preview: Here’s A First Look at New Shows for Fall

Here’s ABC’s fall schedule:

MONDAY: 8 p.m., “Dancing with the Stars”; 10 p.m.,
“Conviction” (new drama)

TUESDAY: 8 p.m., “The
Middle”; 8:30 p.m., “American Housewife” (new comedy); 9 p.m.,
“Fresh Off the Boat”; 9:30 p.m., “The Real O’Neals”; 10
p.m., “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

WEDNESDAY: 8 p.m., “The Goldbergs”; 8:30 p.m.,
“Speechless” (new comedy); 9 p.m., “Modern Family”; 9:30
p.m., “Black-ish”; 10 p.m., “Designated Survivor” (new

THURSDAY: 8 p.m., “Grey’s Anatomy”;
9 p.m., “Notorious” (new drama); 10 p.m., “How to Get Away with

FRIDAY: 8 p.m., “Last Man
Standing”; 8:30 p.m., “Dr. Ken”; 9 p.m., “Shark Tank”;
10 p.m. “20/20”

SATURDAY: 8 p.m., “Saturday College
Night Football”

SUNDAY: 7 p.m., “America’s Funniest Home Videos”; 8 p.m., “Once Upon a
Time”; 9 p.m., “Secrets and Lies”; 10 p.m., “Quantico”

MIDSEASON: “American Crime”; “The Bachelor”; “The
Catch”; “Downward Dog” (new comedy); “Imaginary Mary”
(new comedy); “Scandal”; “Still Star-Crossed” (new drama);
“Time After Time” (new drama).

LIMITED SERIES/SPECIALS: “When We Rise” (created by Dustin
Lance Black); “Dirty Dancing” (three-hour musical event); “Ali:
The Champion” (special); David Blaine magic special.

And here’s a round-up of what’s new on ABC next year:


“Conviction”: Lawyer and former First Daughter Hayes Morrison (Hayley Atwell, “Marvel’s Agent Carter”) is about to accept a job offered from her sexy nemesis, NY District Attorney Wayne Wallis, to avoid jail time for cocaine possession and avoid hurting her mother’s Senate campaign. Working with his team at the new Conviction Integrity Unit will let her use her brilliant mind to turn over cases where there is credible suspicion of wrongful conviction, and give her a chance to turn things around with her high-powered political family.

In addition to Atwell, “Conviction” stars Eddie Cahill as Wayne Wallis, Shawn Ashmore as Sam Sullivan, Merrin Dungey as Maxine, Emily Kinney as Tess Thompson, Manny Montana as Franklin “Frankie” Rios and Daniel DiTomasso as Jackson Morrison.

Co-created by writer Liz Friedman (“Elementary,” “Marvel’s Jessica Jones”), and director Liz Friedlander (“The Following”), “Conviction” will be executive produced by Mark Gordon (“Criminal Minds,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Saving Private Ryan”). “Conviction” is from The Mark Gordon Company and ABC Studios.

“Designated Survivor”: Emmy and Golden Globe winning actor Kiefer Sutherland (“24”) returns to primetime in a conspiracy thriller as Tom Kirkman, a lower cabinet member who unexpectedly becomes president after a devastating attack on Washington. He will struggle to prevent the country and his own family from falling into chaos, as he is thrust into one of the most difficult presidencies in history. 

Designated Survivor” stars Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman, Natascha McElhone as Alex Kirkman, Maggie Q as Hannah Watts, Kal Penn as Seth Wheeler, Adan Canto as Aaron Shore, Italia Ricci as Emily Rhodes, LaMonica Garrett as James Ritter, and Tanner Buchanan as Leo Kirkman.

Designated Survivor” is from The Mark Gordon Company and ABC Studios.  David Guggenheim is creator and executive producer.  In addition to Guggenheim, the series is executive produced by Simon Kinberg, Kiefer Sutherland, Mark Gordon, Nick Pepper, Suzan Bymel, and Aditya Sood. Paul McGuigan directed the first episode.

“Notorious”:  “Notorious” is inspired by the true-life stories of famed criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos and cable news producer Wendy Walker, who serve as executive producers. The series is a provocative look at the unique, sexy, and dangerous interplay of criminal law and the media.  Josh Berman (“Blacklist,” “Bones,” “CSI”) and Allie Hagan (“Suri’s Burn Book”) write and executive produce.

Notorious” stars Piper Perabo (“Covert Affairs”) as Julia George, Daniel Sunjata (“Graceland”) as Jake Gregorian, Sepideh Moafi as Megan Byrd, Kate Jennings Grant as Louise Herrick, Ryan Guzman as Ryan, Kevin Zegers as Oscar Keaton, J. August Richards as Bradley Gregorian and Aimee Teegarden as Ella Benjamin.

Notorious” is from Sony Pictures Television and ABC Studios.  Michael Engler, Kenny Meiselas, Brian Gersh, Jeff Kwatinetz and Josh Barry are also executive producers. Michael Engler directed the pilot.

“Still Star-Crossed”: “Still StarCrossed,” a period drama from Shondaland, picks up where the famous story of Romeo and Juliet ends, charting the treachery, palace intrigue and ill-fated romances of the Montagues and Capulets in the wake of the young lovers’ tragic fate.  The series is based on the book by Melinda Taub.

Still Star Crossed” stars Wade Briggs (“Home and Away”) as Benvolio Montague, Anthony Head as Lord Silvestro Capulet, Zuleikha Robinson as Lady Guiliana Capulet, Lashana Lynch (“The 7.39”) as Rosaline,  Ebonee Noel as Livia, Sterling Sulieman as Prince Escalus, Medalion Rahimi as Princess Isabella, Grant Bowler as Damiano Montague, Susan Wooldrigde as Nurse, Torrance Coombs as Paris and Dan Hildebrand as Friar Lawrence.

Heather Mitchell (“Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy”) is writer and executive producer, Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, and Michael Goldstein are executive producers. Michael Offer is executive producer and director of the pilot, from ABC Studios.

“Time After Time”: Based on the novel and movie “Time After Time,” executive producer/writer Kevin Williamson (“The Vampire Diaries,” “Scream” franchise, “Dawson’s Creek”) delivers a fantastical cat and mouse adventure through time when famed science fiction writer H.G. Wells is transported to modern day Manhattan in pursuit of Jack the Ripper.  Once H.G. arrives in New York City, he finds a world he never thought possible and a young woman who captivates him.

The series stars Freddie Stroma (“Harry Potter” films) as H.G. Wells,  Josh Bowman (“Revenge”) as John Stevenson/Jack the Ripper,  Genesis Rodriguez (“Big Hero 6”) as Jane and Regina Taylor (“Dig”) as Vanessa Anders.  “Time After Time” is from Outerbanks Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Television. Williamson and Marcos Siega (“Blindspot,” “The Following”) are executive producers. Siega directed the pilot.  Williamson wrote the teleplay. “Time After Time” is based on the novel written by Karl Alexander.


“Downward Dog”: Based on the web series, “Downward Dog” is about a struggling millennial, Nan (Emmy nominated Allison Tolman, “Fargo”), from the point of view of her lonely and philosophical dog, Martin.  One session at obedience school already makes them realize that even at their worst, they may be the best thing for each other.

The series stars Allison Tolman as Nan, Lucas Neff as Jason, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Jenn, Barry Rothbart as Kevin and Mo Collins as Kim.

Downward Dog” creators/writers Samm Hodges and Michael Killen will executive produce with Mosaic Media Group’s Jimmy Miller and Sam Hansen, and Animal’s Kathy Dziubek.  Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky were executive producers of the pilot. The series is from Legendary Television and ABC Studios.

“Imaginary Mary”: Alice (Jenna Elfman, “Dharma & Greg,” “Friends With Benefits,” “EDtv”) is a fiercely independent career woman whose life is turned upside-down when she meets the love of her life – a divorced father with three kids.  This triggers even more upheaval when the slightly unhinged imaginary friend she created as a child suddenly reappears to help her navigate the transition from single girl to a woman ready for a family.

The series stars Jenna Elfman as Alice, Stephen Schneider as Ben, Rachel Dratch as Mary (VO), Nicholas Coombe as Andy, Matreya Scarrwener as Dora and Erica Trembay as Bunny.

The live action/CGI hybrid comes from “The Goldbergs” team Adam F. Goldberg (writer/executive producer), David Guarascio (writer/executive producer) and Doug Robinson (executive producer).   Mary CG animation is designed by Patrick Osborne (creator of Academy Award winning animated short, The Feast), who is also executive producer.  The pilot was directed by Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum,” “Cheaper by the Dozen”), who is also executive producer.  The series is a co-production with Sony Pictures Television, Happy Madison and ABC Studios.

“Speechless”: Maya DiMeo (Minnie Driver, “About A Boy,” “The Riches,” “Good Will Hunting”) is a mom on a mission who will do anything for her husband Jimmy, her kids Ray, Dylan, and JJ, her eldest son with special needs.  As Maya fights injustices both real and imagined, the family works to make a new home for themselves, and searches for just the right person to give JJ his “voice.”

Speechless” stars Minnie Driver as Maya DiMeo, John Ross Bowie (“The Big Bang Theory”) as Jimmy DiMeo, Mason Cook as Ray DiMeo, Micah Fowler as JJ DiMeo, Kyla Kennedy as Dylan DiMeo and Cedric Yarbrough as Kenneth.

Scott Silveri (“Friends”) writes and is executive producer of the show, along with “Fresh Off the Boat’s” Jake Kasdan and Melvin Mar.  The series is from Twentieth Century Fox Television and ABC Studios.

“American Housewife”: Katie Otto (Katy Mixon, “Mike and Molly”), a confident, unapologetic, plump wife and mother of three, raises her flawed family in the wealthy town of Westport, Connecticut, filled with “perfect” mommies and their “perfect” offspring.  She lets us in on her deepest, most unfiltered thoughts through voiceover as the she lives her life as the second fattest housewife in Westport.The series stars Katy Mixon as Katie Otto, Diedrich Bader as Jeff Otto, Johnny Sequoyah as Taylor, Daniel DiMaggio as Harrison, Julia Butters as Anna-Kat, Carly Hughes as Angela and Ali Wong as Doris.

“American Housewife” is written by Sarah Dunn (“Spin City,” “Bunheads”) and produced by Kapital Entertainment and ABC Studios. Aaron Kaplan, Rick Weiner and Kenny Schwartz are executive producers and directed by Ruben Fleischer, also an EP.

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