James Famera

State of the Network: ABC

State of the Network: ABC
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ABC is working hard, but coming from behind


by James Famera

The fall television season is once again upon us, and this year ABC has stocked up on a host of new shows by several of the most interesting writers working in television. There’s a Marvel Comics-inspired action series from Joss Whedon, a psychological workplace drama by Kyle Killen, the same writer behind the much beloved, albeit short-lived, Lone Star and Awake, and a high-concept single camera comedy written by The Hangover’s Jon Lucas and Scott Moore.

ABC’s fledgling fall line-up could surely benefit from a much-needed injection of quality, written programming. It’s been a difficult few years for the Disney-owned network, which has failed to recapture the hype of its mid-2000s heyday. Remember, in a span of two years (2004 to 2005) ABC debuted three of the most popular scripted shows on primetime television—Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Grey’s Anatomy—thus marking a new era of status and prestige for the once fourth-place network. Then almost as quickly, it all came crashing down. The network’s once-growing army of young viewers began to dissipate after the writer’s strike of 2007, and never really returned. ABC had a brief return to the spotlight in 2009 after the debut of the Emmy Award-winning Modern Family. But showrunners Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, in addition to the rest of Modern Family’s whip- smart writing staff, deserved most, if not all, of the praise.

Since 2010, the British- born television executive, Paul Lee, has served as the President of ABC Entertainment Group. Lee is eager to return the network to its exalted mid-2000s status as the hip, young “network to watch” by picking up a slew of new and exciting pilots from established talents. ABC is already the No. 1 network among females between the ages of 18-to-49, with shows like Once Upon a Time, Grey’s Anatomy and the Shonda Rhimes-scripted political thriller, Scandal, all being immensely popular among female viewers. Still, Lee has made a big push this season to lure in male viewers with Joss Whedon’s testosterone-driven, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. When asked about the show at the year’s upfronts, Lee told reporters, “We think it’s going to recruit a whole new audience.” Given Whedon’s recent track record with male audiences, Lee certainly has the right man to take the network there.

What will you watch on ABC this upcoming fall season? Here’s a round-up of what to expect.

Mark and Robb Cullen's Back in the Game

Mark and Robb Cullen’s Back in the Game

Back in the Game (Comedy)

Written and Created by Mark and Robb Cullen

James Caan stars as a beer-drinking former baseball player who’s thrust back into his grandson’s life after his once estranged daughter moves back in with him. And yep, you can bet that America’s past time plays a major part in this new sports comedy from sibling writers Mark and Robb Cullen. The Cullen Brothers have over a decade of experience creating shows for prime-time television, including FX’s Lucky and NBC’s Heist, meaning they’re no strangers to the small screen. This will be their first time writing TV comedy since creating FX’s short-lived animated series, Gary the Rat, which starred Kelsey Grammar as a big city lawyer that just happens to have a long tail and whiskers (i.e. he’s a rat).

As for the brother’s comedy writing process, Mark Cullen recently told Cinema.com, “My brother and I, we write everything we do at a coffee shop in Santa Monica. We sit outside and we just write and tell jokes to each other.” The comedy writer’s room is obviously more communal, meaning the brothers may have to venture outside of their “coffee shop” comfort zone in order to churn out two dozen shows a year. Or maybe not.

Joss Whedon's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Joss Whedon’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Drama)

Written and Created by Joss Whedon

Based on the popular Marvel comic, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. follows a small team of law enforcement agents as they expose the world’s newly-emerging super humans. For creator Joss Whedon, the show is familiar territory. Remember, it was just last year that he wrote and directed the third highest grossing movie of all time with Marvel’s The Avengers. ABC has big plans for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., meaning you can expect the network to put the full weight of its promotional department behind the upcoming superhero series. This is also Whedon’s first television outing since his much- beloved science- fiction series, Dollhouse, was cancelled by Fox back in early 2010.

As far as the writing of the series is concerned, Whedon likes to build a long-lasting relationship with his writers while giving them free reign to create. “If the script works, if a costume is right, if an actor gets it, I’m not going to get in there just so I can have gotten in there,” Whedon previously told The A.V. Club. “So if somebody gets it right, I leave it alone.”

Rebel Wilson's Super Fun Night

Rebel Wilson’s Super Fun Night

Super Fun Night (Comedy)

Written and Co-Created by Rebel Wilson

Rebel Wilson is the co-creator behind this sitcom about three female friends and their quest to have “super fun” every Friday night. Seems like a simple enough premise, right? Although Wilson is best known for her hilarious roles in films like Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect, and Bachelorette, this will be the Australian native’s first venture writing for an American TV audience. Of course, it always helps when you have a comedic powerhouse like Conan O’Brien serving as Executive Producer.

Although Super Fun Night will be Wilson’s first time writing in the States, she has long been known as a hyphenate writer-performer in Australia. “I started writing my own plays and putting them on and singing and dancing in them and I just very quickly got attention by doing that and got into Australian TV which then led to coming over here,” Wilson recently told Screencave.com. In addition to writing and performing in her own plays, Wilson is no stranger to the writer’s room. While living and working in Australia, she served on the writing staffs of two sketch comedy shows, The Wedge and Bogan Pride.

Kyle Killen's Mind Games

Kyle Killen’s Mind Games

Mind Games (Drama)

Written and Created by Kyle Killen

Series creator Kyle Killen has had a string of bad luck with his last two television shows—NBC’s fantasy police procedural Awake, and the Fox drama about a Texas con-man, Lone Star—both of which were swiftly cancelled by their respective networks despite a passionate outcry among devoted fans and critics. With Mind Games, a psychological drama about a unique firm that uses the science behind human manipulation to combat its clients’ problems, Killen returns to the dark, heady material that has made his past work so enticing.

Despite being told by countless reviewers and fans to put all of his writing energy into creating an acclaimed cable series in the vein of Mad Men or Breaking Bad, Killen has set his sights on reviving the once booming network drama. “There’s something attractive about the fact that network drama is down at the moment—it feels like there’s an opportunity there,” Killen recently told Indiewire.com. “They can’t be down forever. Something is eventually going to bring the see-saw back to their side. So it’s fun to chase that, even though it’s hard, and I haven’t been successful. That’s entertaining.”

Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz's Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (Drama)

Written and Created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz

A spin-off of ABC’s already successful Once Upon a Time, this new show follows the beautiful young Alice as she tells fantastical stories of a curious new place called Wonderland. Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, both of whom served on the writing staff of the parent show and obviously know the material extremely well, created Wonderland. As an added bonus, prior to joining the writing staff of Once Upon a Time, Kitsis and Horowitz together wrote 21 episodes of J.J. Abrams’s much beloved Lost.

When it comes to the actual writing of the new series, expect Kitsis and Horowitz to enact the same communal style of writing that has made Once Upon a Time such a superbly written show. “We’ve got an amazing group of writers and we sit in a room and come up with these stories and these big arcs and this stuff for an entire season, so it’s kind of like one giant episode,” Horowitz previously told TV.com about working as a staff writer on Once Upon a Time. “So the most satisfying thing for us is to look back at the season and say, there was a story we set out to tell and we told it the way we wanted to.”

Jon Lucas and Scott Moore's Mixology

Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s Mixology

Mixology (Comedy)

Written and Created by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

After a string of hugely successful feature comedies, including Four Christmases, The Hangover, and The Change-Up, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have finally made the jump into TV with Mixology. The show follows the exploits of 10 singles over the course of a single night in a trendy Manhattan bar. With its 24-esque single night concept, Mixology is one of the more ambitious comedies to air on network television in years (which in the ratings-driven world of the Big Four, is not always a good thing). Still, if any writing team has the chops to make us laugh on a weekly basis, it’s the same two guys that gave us The Wolfpack.

Since this is Lucas and Moore’s first undertaking as television comedy writers, the process can be a bit daunting. However, the comedic duo will most likely keep their process intact. “I like to do more of the characters and the jokes, where Scott loves more the concept and the plotting,” Lucas recently told Backstage.com. “So between the two of us, we have most of what makes a full writer.”

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One Response to State of the Network: ABC

  1. Avatar
    Danielle Juracka August 14, 2013 at 1:52 am

    I’m not sure if I can watch any of these shows with my schedule, but I really enjoyed reading this author’s description of them.

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