The Watchman: During Dog Days of TCA, ABC Comedy Is Downwardly Mobile

It was at ABC'supfront last spring when Channing Dungey, newly installed entertainment president, recited an old Hollywood truism. “If you don’t want your phone call returned,” she said, “pitch a show about a dog.”

She was talking about comedy Downward Dog.

A talking dog show can’t possibly work.

Or can it?

Well, the trailer is endearing, and the cast, including Allison Tolman, formerly of Fargo, and Lucas Neff, last seen as Jimmy on the late, pretty good Raising Hope, was having nothing short of a ball during their bow-wow powwow at TCA. They repeatedly cracked each other up, and their untethered enthusiasm even got a bit of a rise out of the staid critics in the crowd.

Yet there’s a formula at TCA for figuring out hits, and misses, based on show panels. In short, you add up the number of reporters clamoring for a microphone with which to ask a question, factor in how many of those are the association’s old guard, and subtract the total number of laughs on stage.

“When a panel giggles a lot, the show doesn’t make it to episode 5,” said one vet of the press gatherings.

We’ll have to wait til summer for Downward Dog. Neff, who plays a struggling magician—a “transitioning wizard,” in his words—calls it “the most cinematic thing you’ll see from a network TV show.” He invokes Freaks and Geeks and Arrested Development in terms of Dog trying to do something different. Of course, those two didn’t last long. “I got into this to try to make something that feels special, that feels innovative,”

Neff said. “I could care less about just surviving.” Neff himself has a “massive legion of monsters” at home: Two terriers, a Labrador and a dachshund/pit bull mix (Yes, you can mix a dachshund and a pit bull).

Elsewhere at TCA in Pasadena, Luke Perry, star of CW’s Archie Comics drama Riverdale, could be seen with his dog Penny at his side just about everywhere he went. Perry made his name almost three decades ago in high school drama Beverly Hills 90210, and finds himself in a high school drama once again.

What’s different this time around? Kids today, he says, don’t have the same urgency when shooting scenes, since digital production doesn’t cost nearly as much as film reels did back in the day. “You had to get it right, had to be in focus when you just had a couple shots,” he told B&C. “This is a much more forgiving medium now.”

As a result, says Perry, actor kids today are “lazier.”

But Perry’s on-screen son Archie, played by New Zealander K.J. Apa, got the last laugh when asked if he’d ever watched 90210. “I didn’t,” the young whippersnapper answered. “But my mom definitely did.”

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.