Innovations, er, “Innovations” from broadcast networks — ABC

Curious as to what this all means? Read my introduction to this multi-post series.

Of all the networks I researched for this project, I think ABC’s results surprised me the most.

And that’s not a good thing.
So what is the format of these posts? I’m not exactly sure. I’ll play ABC this way and *hopefully* will some feedback, maybe I can mix it up moving forward.

Where they started

Coming off the 2004-2005 season, ABC was flying high. The two most powerful and popular new broadcast series of the year — Lost, Desperate Housewives — were on the Alphabet network, pulling them out of a substantial hole they found themselves in for the decade prior. With those two stars and the growing-in-popularity Grey’s Anatomy also in tow, ABC might have been best primed to face the second half of the aughts.


Total new series: 16

  • Drama: 6; Commander in Chief, Invasion, Night Stalker, Blind Justice, What About Brian, The Evidence
  • Reality: 2; How to Get the Guy, One Ocean View
  • Multi-Camera Sitcom: 3; Crumbs, Hot Properties, Freddie
  • Single Camera Sitcom: 2; Emily’s Reasons Why Not, Sons and Daughters
  • Competition Reality: 2; The One, Master of Champions

Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 1 (What About Brian); more than two seasons: 0

Character type count: Family (3), Girl Power (2), Politics (1), Supernatural Cop (1), Lawyers (1), Young Professionals (1), Cops (1) and Aliens (1).

Thoughts: Well, that’s a rough start to the decade’s second half. The one series that lasted more than season was What About Brian, the JJ Abrams-produced, Barry Watson-starring melodrama that had a minuscule five episode first season order and a total run of only 24 episodes. The post-Lost landscape led to Invasion, a fairly popular series that would be a megahit in today’s TV world, but didn’t work as a lead-out of Lost — something ABC has yet to figure out since 2005.

Commander in Chief was buzzworthy from the jump, but flamed out by season’s end and Night Stalker was a remade mess that proved one of the best rules in Hollywood: It’s better to have Stuart Townsend leave your project than to star in it.

The sitcom’s this season featured a few high-profile stars — Freddie Prinze Jr. in Freddie and Heather Graham in Emily’s Reasons Why Not — but not much else.

Any innovation? Absolutely not.


Total new series: 23

  • Drama: 7; Men in Trees, Brothers & Sisters, October Road, Day Break, Traveler, The Nine, Six Degrees
  • Single Camera Sitcom: 6; Help Me Help You, Knights of Prosperity, Notes From the Underbelly, In Case of Emergency, Ugly Betty, Big Day
  • Competition Reality: 4; American Investor, Fat March, Fast Cars and Superstars, Greatest Celebrity Impersonator
  • Reality: 3; Shaq’s Challenge, Great American Dream Vote, The Ex-Wives Club
  • Game: 2; Set For Life, Show Me The Money
  • Anthology: 1; Masters of Science Fiction

Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 6 (American Inventor, Brothers & Sisters, Men in Trees, October Road, Notes From The Underbelly, Ugly Betty); more than two seasons: 2 (Brothers & Sisters, Ugly Betty)

Character type count: Small town (2), Wedding (1), Doctor (1), Pregnancy (1), Thieves (1), Idiots (1), Girl Power (1), Supernatural Cop (1), Family (1), Fugitives (1), Young Pros (1), Serial group (1)

Thoughts: A bigger slate of development led to a better output of returning series. Also, this season sees ABC really building its brand as a place for primarily for women while trying to add more for the fans of Lost. In terms of quality, each one of the seven drama series had its redeeming qualities, but the ones that were supposed to appeal to Lost fans — Day Break, Traveler, The Nine — were either messes or not given their due. Brothers & Sisters is still plodding along, Ugly Betty is wrapping up a solid four-year run now and some might say that October Road and Men in Trees should have lasted longer than they did.

On the comedy side, a slew of single camera efforts that were all pretty bad aside from Betty, but Knights of Prosperity and Big Day at least tried to do something different. Alas. The reality efforts were also lame, with four of the seven featuring celebs or semi-celebs, a major trend of this period.

Any innovation? Maybe a little. Ugly Betty was not innovative in a sense, but worked as a successful formatting of an international product, which is again a mark of this time. Day Break was an interesting exercise of serialization, but ended up as an online burn-off. That could be something to note: That season, ABC went hard with the online video portal, and even burned off a few series online.


Total new series: 20

  • Drama: 7; Pushing Daisies, Big Shots, Dirty Sexy Money, Private Practice, Cashmere Mafia, Women’s Murder Club, Eli Stone
  • Game: 5; Dance Machine, Duel, Wanna Bet?, Wipeout, I Survived a Japanese Gameshow
  • Competition Reality: 4; Dance War, High School Musical: Get In The Picture, Here Comes The Newlyweds, Oprah’s Big Give
  • Single Camera Sitcom: 3; Samantha Who?, Carpoolers, Miss Guided
  • Multi-Camera Sitcom: 1; Cavemen

Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 8 (Samantha Who?, Wipeout, I Survived a Japanese Gameshow, Eli Stone, Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money, Private Practice, Here Come the Newlyweds); more than two seasons: 2 (Private Practice, Wipeout)

Character type count: Girl Power (3), Lawyer (2), Young Pros (2), Idiots (1), Doctors (1), Supernatural Cops (1), Cops (1)

Thoughts: Important to remember that this was the WGA Strike season, which ABC reacted very, very poorly to. It took a risk with a whole new Wednesday of Daisies, Sexy Money and Private Practice, but by not bringing them back after the strike was over, fans moved away from the first two, which led to their cancellation in 2008-2009. Hell, you could even throw Eli Stone in that group too.

Samantha Who? was a solid hit that quickly burnt out, but the other three comedies were less than stellar. Very much so. The reality slate makes me go “meh,” but you cannot fault them for pushing Wipeout on us.

Any innovations? Taking a chance with an all-new Wednesday was ballsy and Pushing Daisies is probably the most “innovative” series on broadcast television in this five-year run. Dirty Sexy Money would have worked better as a cable series.


Total new series: 12

  • Drama: 5; Castle, Defying Gravity, Life on Mars, The Unusuals,Cupid
  • Single Camera Sitcom: 3; Better Off Ted, Scrubs, In the Motherhood
  • Multi-Camera Sitcom: 1; Surviving Suburbia
  • Animated Comedy: 1; The Goode Family
  • Reality: 1; Homeland Security
  • Competition Reality: 1; Opportunity Knocks

Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 3 (Better Off Ted, Scrubs, Castle); more than two seasons: Probably 1 (Castle)

Character type count: Cops (2), Animated Family (1), Family (1), Young Pros (1), Supernatural Cops (1), Astronauts (1), Doctors (1), Supernatural Being (1)

Thoughts: In the post-strike environment, not many winners here. The Unusuals and Castle were two more attempts at ABC trying to get its own successful procedural, and thankfully the latter is doing well enough to give them that. Mars and Cupid were two remakes that did not do too hot, while Better Off Ted was an innovative comedy that was simply buried when ABC figured out their comedy block in 2009. Sad.

Any innovations? Not really.


Total new series: 14

  • Drama: 6; FlashForward, the forgotten, Eastwick, V, The Deep End, Happy Town
  • Single Camera Sitcom: 3; Modern Family, Cougar Town, The Middle
  • Competition Reality: 3; Shark Tank, Crash Course, The Superstars
  • Reality: 1; Find My Family
  • Multi-Camera Sitcom: 1; Hank

Total number of series that lasted more one season: 3* (Modern Family, Cougar Town, The Middle); more than two seasons: N/A

*Assuming that V doesn’t make a run and get a second season.

Character type count: Doctors (3), Serial group (2), Small town (2), Aliens (2), Idiots (2), Politicians (2), Witches (1), Supernatural Being (1), Astronauts (1), Animated Family (1), Fugitives (1), Thieves (1), Pregnancies (1), Weddings (1)

Thoughts: With Lost at its end, it was smart of ABC to try to find a replacement for it, it’s just too bad that the possibilities aren’t worth a damn. Good news for ABC is that they found their comedy block to build around. Modern Family is a great combination of the Office-style mockumentary and the family comedies of old.

Any innovations: Modern Family.

Final wrap up
Total number of series: 85

  • Drama: 31
  • Single Camera Sitcom: 17
  • Competition Reality: 14
  • Reality: 8
  • Game: 7
  • Multi-Camera Sitcom: 6
  • Animated: 1
  • Anthology: 1

Total number of series that lasted more than one season: 21; 24.7%
Character type count: Family (8), Girl Power (7), Cops (5), Young Pros (5), Lawyers (4), Supernatural Cops (4), Small town (3), Doctors (3), Serial group (2), Small town (2), Aliens (2), Idiots (2), Politicians (2), Witches (1), Supernatural Being (1), Astronauts (1), Animated Family (1), Fugitives (1), Thieves (1), Pregnancies (1), Weddings (1)

Final thoughts: Like I said thousands of words ago, I’m a little surprised with ABC’s last five years. We talk a lot about NBC’s failures, but ABC hasn’t really done much better. They’ve been doing a solid job with establishing themselves as a place for women, but aside from that, there has not been much else. Every single one of the post-Lost sci-fi series have been a bust, whether for valid reasons or not.

ABC has struggled with comedy for years, and it’s only been the last few seasons that have helped them establish themselves a little. Of the 17 single cam comedies they’ve aired since 2005, eight have gone more than one season. That might seem like a solid number, but remember that includes three of this season and two from last, which means that well was pretty dry before 2008. Absolutely none of their multi-camera comedies have lasted more than a season.

Obviously, the general trend is leading towards more reality and competition programming, and though ABC’s aired their fair share of it, only three of the 22 series in those two categories have gone 1+.

When you think about, if the three comedies and Castle wouldn’t have been successful, most of ABC “big” programs would all be old. Their three biggest are still the same they started with going into this period, and while Ugly Betty, Brothers & Sisters and Private Practice have been fine, one is ending and the other two are a mess. And in general, the ratings for ABC’s big series are falling faster than the general rate.

In terms of off-content innovations, ABC does deserve some credit for being one of the first adopters of online video, and they were also smart enough to join up with Hulu when they could see eyes cumulating on that web site.

Thus, though ABC might not be in as bad as shape as NBC moving into 2010-2011, it has still been a rocky road for the past five years. They’ve missed on most reality projects and failed with most comedies, but perhaps more than the other networks, their few successes have been big enough to keep us from looking this closely at them. Until now of course.

Your thoughts on ABC?

One thought on “Innovations, er, “Innovations” from broadcast networks — ABC

  1. I really thought ABC was in better shape than your research suggests, but I guess not. I think it's worthwhile to note that while ABC has, I think, built themselves up as a slightly female-centric brand, some of their shows that were specifically targeted at women (hi there, Commander in Chief and Women's Murder Club)failed too for some reason. In the case of Commander, I think the series needed some recalibration and ABC didn't really give it a chance to, and it was probably two years early. Women's Murder Club was kinda terrible in general.


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