Dungey Leads Plunge Into Comedy, Diversity

STRATEGY: Use proven comedies to launch new ones, deploy TGIT block to incubate new dramas.

ABC is confident enough in its established comedies that it’s relying on a few of them to help spark a new group of hot sitcoms. The Middle and The Goldbergs have been solid performers on Wednesdays, and each will shoulder a greater burden come fall.

The Middle will start off Tuesday primetime, leading into American Housewife, about a plussize mom in tony Westport, Conn., followed by Fresh Off the Boat and The Real O’Neals.

Wednesdays, it’s The Goldbergs heading into Speechless, then Modern Family and Black-ish before Designated Survivor. Kiefer Sutherland revisits signature 24 themes in Designated—namely, terrorism and government leaders in peril—in the Mark Gordon-produced thriller. (An optimistic Sutherland said he “realized I’m holding potentially the next decade in my hand” while reading the pilot script.)

Channing Dungey, the new entertainment president at ABC, showed some jitters in her first upfront presentation from the Lincoln Center stage, then touted ABC’s core values such as family comedies and diversity on both sides of the camera. “We will always reflect the authenticity of the faces of those around us,” said Dungey. “Because we are America’s Broadcast Company.”

Other new comedies include Downward Dog, which features a talking dog (Dungey conceded that pitches involving talking dogs traditionally don’t get callbacks in Hollywood), and Imaginary Mary, starring Jenna Elfman and an imaginary stuffed animal friend voiced by Rachel Dratch.

The comedy sizzle reels drew a moderate reaction from the upfront presentation assembly.

Understandably, Dungey started off the schedule talk with Thursdays. TGIT has been synonymous with ShondaLand, but a non-Shonda show cracks the lineup this fall, with Notorious—taking place behind the scenes at a hard-driving cable network—leading out of Grey’s Anatomy. How to Get Away With Murder takes on 10 p.m.; Dungey identified the last hour of prime as a key priority.

Back in ShondaLand, Scandal holds until midseason, along with The Catch. Shonda Rhimes’ new Romeo and Juliet-themed Still Star-Crossed also arrives in winter.

Another drama of note is Time After Time. Time travel has emerged as a trend in the broadcast nets’ new development hauls, including NBC drama Timeless and Fox comedy Making History. Time After Time, a mashup of H.G. Wells, modern day Manhattan and Jack the Ripper—and with a nod to the cultishly popular 1979 film of the same name—comes from Kevin Williamson.

Dungey also announced three more years for late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who proceeded to skewer each of the Big Four broadcast networks, and a handful of digital rivals for good measure. With a wink at ABC’s diversity efforts, Kimmel said its ideal series would be titled Gay Black Doctor Cop.

Dungey also talked up the musical Dirty Dancing and gay rights miniseries When We Rise, directed by Gus Van Sant.

ABC’s presentation featured its share of song and dance, including an opening number from Priyanka Chopra, showing moves she doesn’t get to flaunt on Quantico, before Ben Sherwood, Disney-ABC Television Group president, stepped to his mark. “If you were hoping the dazzling and dynamic women would get off the stage so you can hear from a middle-aged white guy,” he said, “you got your wish.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.