Ahead of its upfront presentation Tuesday afternoon in New York, ABC unveiled a fall prime-time schedule that, in contrast to the tumult of recent years, will remain remarkably steady. The network will premiere just five new series this fall, and is leaving most returning shows in their existing time slots.
"We've obviously kept much of our schedule intact,"said ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee in a call with reporters Tuesday morning, noting the network's "balance of stability and real ambition" for the fall.
While the network still trails its rivals NBC and CBS in overall viewers, this season it can boast of being the only broadcaster to see an increase in viewers under 50.
"We're the only network to grow, and we didn't get there by chance," said Lee, boasting of the network's mostly successful push into more diverse programming, with shows like "How to Get Away With Murder," "Fresh Off the Boat" and "blackish," which feature people of color in lead roles on camera and behind the scenes.
With the exception of "Cristela," a sitcom featuring Latina star Cristela Alonzo that was canceled last week, the gamble seems to have paid off, most dramatically in the case of "How to Get Away With Murder." It ranks as TV's No. 4 entertainment series in adults 18 to 49.(The jury is still out on the ambitious drama "American Crime," which was renewed despite low ratings.)
Sundays will see the biggest changes, with the debut of what Lee described as "two big, muscular, broad soap operas."
"Oil," a drama about the North Dakota oil rush starring Don Johnson, will replace the canceled "Resurrection" at 9 p.m. ABC is the latest network to dabble in religious projects with "Of Kings and Prophets," a retelling of the story of David and King Saul that's scheduled for 10 p.m. on Sundays.
"This is not your parents' Sunday school, Bible show," said Lee.
There are also changes afoot on Tuesday nights, which have proved a challenge for ABC. "The Muppets," a mockumentary spoof starring everyone's favorite felt friends, is scheduled for 8 p.m. At 10 p.m. is the FBI drama "Quantico." At midseason, "Fresh Off the Boat" will move to 8 p.m. to make room for "The Real O'Neals," a sitcom about an Irish American family that's "right in the heart of our brand," according to Lee.
Rounding out the new fall shows is "Dr. Ken," a multi-camera comedy starring Ken Jeong slated for Fridays at 8 p.m. "Uncle Buck," a series adaptation of the John Candy film starring Mike Epps in the title role, is being held for midseason.
Wednesday's lineup of family sitcoms and Thursday's triple-header of dramas from executive producer Shonda Rhimes will remain intact, as will "Dancing With the Stars" (and later, "The Bachelor"), followed by "Castle" on Mondays.
Rhimes will continue to expand her empire with "The Catch," a midseason drama starring Mireille Enos as a fraud investigator.
Lee also indicated that he has no plans to bring an end to "Grey's Anatomy," the long-running medical drama created by Rhimes, despite the recent, much buzzed-about death of a major character.
In response to a question about the episode order for "How to Get Away With Murder," which had just 15 episodes in its first season, Lee declined to get specific but suggested the show's second season would be similar in length.