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Taking a Big Shot With Post-'Modern Family' Slot

If you're the perpetually coiffed, perpetually single Ryan Seacrest, and you’re making your first foray into producing scripted television, a show about attractive 20- and 30-somethings looking for love in a Manhattan bar might seem like a good fit. And if you’re ABC, mired in last place in the ratings among the Big Four, and watching Super Fun Night lose 54% of its Modern Family lead-in—as it did in live-plus-sameday Nielsen ratings for adults 18-49 on Feb. 5, the last time the two shows aired original episodes on the same night—you might be happy to take a gamble on a largecast single-camera comedy, with the plot of the entire season taking place in a single night.

And if you’re Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, looking to break into television after more than a dozen years in feature films, and you’ve written a spec pilot that fits the above descriptions— well, lucky you. The writers of The Hangover were able to shop their spec around themselves and land a pilot order from ABC early last year, then bring Ryan Seacrest Productions on board to help with the logistics. For ABC, RSP, and the show’s creators—whose most recent film, 21 & Over, failed to draw much attention—the Feb. 26 premiere of Mixology in the plum post-Modern Family time slot is a shot at a fresh start.

“I feel like there was a real appetite among the networks to try something new,” Lucas says. But when it came time to make the pilot, ABC encouraged the writers to find an experienced helping hand. After a network-arranged introduction, they settled on Nina Wass, executive vice president of scripted programming for RSP.

Building the Brand

Because the Mixology pilot had already been ordered, there was no development process for Wass to participate in. Regardless, the show made sense as RSP’s first scripted series.

“I think it fits perfectly,” Wass says. “Jon and Scott are so interesting because they’re really hilarious and kind of bawdy, and sometimes kind of raunchy,” but, she adds, “they’re also deeply optimistic, and there’s a freshness to that that feels very on-brand.”

Seacrest’s brand has been built on unscripted shows such as Keeping Up With the Kardashians and his on-camera work on American Idol and E! News (though his most recent such gig, hosting NBC’s failed game show The Million Second Quiz did little to help matters). When Wass joined RSP in 2012 to build out the company’s comedy and drama pipeline, she raised the question—why break into scripted now?

“I’m not Ryan, but we’ve obviously discussed this a lot,” Wass says. She talks about how Seacrest “loves creating worlds” regardless of format, then adds, “I guess at this point he decided with his team of advisors that this was a good time to diversify and to try it.”

RSP has series in development at ABC, NBC, USA and Amazon—a mix of singlecamera comedies and dramas. When developing a project to represent the Seacrest brand, “We want definitely for it to have teeth,” Wass says, “but I don’t think we’re going into a particularly bleak place—although most TV shows don’t anyway, so that’s not overly limiting.”

One Night at the Bar

For Mixology, the uniqueness comes in structure and scale that separates it from most network comedies.

Wass was among those who raised concerns to Lucas and Moore about the cast size and about keeping all 10 principals permanently penned in a darkened bar for a whole season. But she, like the network, was won over by the writers’ argument for the creative necessity of a large cast—more characters equal more hookup possibilities—and their use of flashbacks to get the viewer away from the bar for a few minutes each episode. So Wass focused on the business side, tackling casting and budget problems.

“Nina knew all the brass tacks and had worked in TV as a producer for so long,” Moore says, “She could help navigate us through all the nitty gritty pieces.”

And she allowed Lucas and Moore to navigate their own ship creatively.

“You help where you’re helpful and get out of the way where you’re not,” Wass says.

With ABC looking for a midseason success story and RSP looking for a big splash in a new field, plenty is riding on that philosophy. And everybody is hoping that the show ultimately produces TV’s favorite pickup line: “We’ll give you a full season.”