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Upfronts 2014: ABC doubles down on Shonda Rhimes amid schedule shuffle

TelevisionABCShonda RhimesScandal (tv program)Viola Davis
A third Shonda Rhimes show will land on ABC in the fall
'Agent Carter' will fill the gap between 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s' mini-seasons on ABC

Looking to rebound from its third-place spot in the ratings this season, ABC in the fall will double down on Shonda Rhimes and also make a number of bets on multiethnic shows.

The network on Tuesday announced that it was moving up Rhimes’ long-running hospital hit “Grey’s Anatomy” an hour to 8 p.m. on Thursdays so it can make room for a new Rhimes show, “How To Get Away with Murder.” “Scandal,” the third Rhimes’ leg in the tripod, will move up to 9 p.m., leaving the 10 p.m. slot for the new series.

The result is an unusual bloc of shows from the same creator, albeit set in different worlds. (“Murder” is a legal thriller set in part at a law school and starring Viola Davis as a complicated professor.)

The news also means that the Patrick Dempsey-and-Chandra Wilson-starring “Grey’s,” heading into its 11th season, will air in a time period in which some of its more adult content may need to be muted.

In a conference call with reporters announcing the schedule ahead of a presentation to advertisers at Lincoln Center on Tuesday afternoon, ABC Entertainment Group chief Paul Lee sought to downplay that concern.

“We think it’s going to be fine,” he said, after questions about the issue from several reporters. “We have [the network's office of broadcast standards and practices] to ensure whatever we air is appropriate.”

Much is riding on the new season for ABC, which, despite megahits “Modern Family” and “Scandal,” does not see a roster go as deep as some of its competitors. It is currently in fourth place among advertiser-desired young adults.

To boost ratings, it has scheduled a number of new multiethnic shows that Lee said “reflect the changed face of America.”

Joining multiethnic dramas such as "Scandal" and "Murder," “Cristela” and “Black-ish” “Cristela” and “Black-ish” have been given prime spots behind “Last Man Standing” and “Modern Family,” respectively. Also, the network had ordered but will hold for midseason the Asian American-themed comedy “Fresh Off the Boat.” 

“Black-ish,” which stars Laurence Fishburne and counts new Comedy Central host Larry Wilmore as one of its executive producers, looks at assimilation among an upper-middle-class black family.

“Cristela,” meanwhile, is comedian Cristela Alonzo’s comedy about a Mexican American woman caught between her professional ambitions as a lawyer and her family’s more traditional outlook.

“Boat” is comedian Eddie Huang’s look at a boy growing up in suburban Orlando preoccupied with hip-hop. It's to follow another coming-of-age story with ethnic overtones, “The Goldbergs,” which ABC said it would next season be moving to the hammock slot between hits “The Middle” and “Modern Family” on Wednesday, a period previously occupied by canceled series “Suburgatory.’

The network, however, said it was sticking with “Suburgatory” creator Emily Kapnek, scheduling her new show “Selfie” -- about a woman who realizes her social-media popularity doesn’t match her real-life friendships -- for Tuesday at 8 p.m.

“Showrunners are allowed to do their 10,000 hours to learn,” Lee said, explaining the decision to go with a new Kapnek series. “'Selfie' is an extraordinary show and plays so well into Emily’s voice.”

The program is one of three new shows (including the romantic comedy “Manhattan Love Story” and the Ioan Gruffudd-starring procedural “Forever”) airing on a night anchored by “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

“S.H.I.E.L.D. will continue to follow the split-season approach ABC has come to favor that essentially creates fall and spring mini-seasons ['Scandal' and several other shows will do so as well], and will see the gap between the seasons bridged by “Agent Carter,” Lee said.

He described the new Marvel series, which stars Hayley Atwell as the titular agent and onetime paramour of Steve Rodgers (Captain America) by saying that “basically it’s a 'S.H.I.E.L.D.' origin story with a kick … lead.”

Also in a bridge slot will be “Galavant,” a medieval musical comedy from screenwriter Dan Fogelman and composer Alan Menken that will land in the period between the two “Once Upon a Time” mini-seasons sometime around the holidays.

All told, a total of six new series will premiere on the network in the fall -- four comedies and two dramas -- with an additional six held for midseason.

ABC is leaving its Sunday and Monday schedules intact -- anchored by “Dancing With the Stars” and new hit “Resurrection,” respectively -- though it will use a midseason Sunday slot  to launch “American Crime,” Oscar winner John Ridley’s race-oriented story about a family coping with the fallout from a home invasion. The show will take the place of “Resurrection” after its somewhat abridged season ends.

Lee did not spend much time on the call acknowledging the network’s disappointing ratings this season, instead noting statistics such as ABC landing “six of the top 10 dramas.” But he did say ABC took an aggressive approach in courting creators such as Fogelman and Ridley.

“We actually went out and approached some of the strongest storytellers in the world,” he said, telling them to "'bring us your passion project; we’ll take off the handcuffs.'"

The new schedule sets up a number of intriguing matchups, including Kerry Washington’s hot D.C. soap “Scandal” airing opposite NBC’s “The Blacklist,” which is also moving to Thursday at 9 p.m. in the fall.

Lee also said that “Scandal” will move to a full season of more than 20 episodes, after just 18 this past year due to Washington’s pregnancy.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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