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ABC 2019-2020 Upfront Preview

With a new leadership team in place, can this be year ABC breaks out of fourth place?
  • Nicholas Pinnock stars as a once wrongly-convicted man seeking justice for others in the same position in ABC's fall legal drama, For Life
    Nicholas Pinnock stars as a once wrongly-convicted man seeking justice for others in the same position in ABC's fall legal drama, For Life

    Our resident script reader Jean-Maxime Renault has read the pilot scripts for almost all of this year's series pickups heading into upfront week. For his detailed thoughts on all of the year's contenders, be sure to check out his pilot script reviews

    When ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke takes the stage at Tuesday's upfront, the schedule she'll present to advertisers will mostly be based on shows she didn't actively pursue or develop, as she arrived late in the game after her predecessor Channing Dungey left for Netflix. Perhaps that's why she's been fairly stingy with her series orders and more generous with her renewals, as decisions were made alongside FOX-turned-Disney president Dana Walden. Burke has been vocal about her desire to reclaim No. 1 status among female viewers, long ABC's bread and butter. But her biggest challenge will be to dig the network out of the No. 4 slot and reclaim points in the coveted adult 18-49 demo where they slipped even further over the last year.  Which shows have been picked up? Which shows have been rejected? The answers below:


    What they've ordered…

    STUMPTOWN (Pilot script review)
    Stumptown is a female-fueled, character-driven, semi-serialized P.I. drama like no other in today's network television landscape. With Cobie Smulders in the lead role and the promise of a modern update on a tried but true genre, this one always felt like a keeper for ABC, even if it's a bit edgier than the shows currently on their schedule. Apparently, it's been an internal favorite from the start so expect royal treatment for it on the schedule.

    FOR LIFE (Pilot script review)
    One of the best pilot scripts of the year, For Life is arguably the most original legal drama among the many ordered this year. One part legal, one part political, one part family and one part soap, it's a full meal deal, richn with emotional intensity. This one's pretty likely to win critical acclaim, but finding an audience may prove more difficult. 

    THE BAKER AND THE BEAUTY (Pilot script review)
    The Baker and the Beauty, based on an Israeli hit, may be just what ABC needs in its quest to lure back women to the network,  An entertaining, at times frivolous romantic comedy on the surface, it also has a grittier side and some real things to say about the world we share.

    EMERGENCE (Pilot script review)
    Originally picked up to pilot at NBC, Disney-owned Emergence came home in an unexpected turn of events. When word came that the Peacock was not picking it up to series, ABC's new executive team swooped in as they loved the pilot. That being said, the piloty script for this mystery thriller drama felt to me like the basis for yet another rudderless high concept show. After The Crossing and Kevin (Probably) Saves The World (from the same duo of creators) flopped, I'm not sure they made the right call by saving it.

    What they've rejected…

    NEW YORK UNDERCOVER (Pilot script review)
    Even though the New York Undercover reboot had a promising pilot script, it was clearly not a great fit for ABC, which mostly traffics in lighter fare these days, and for good reason. Here's hoping Universal, which produced it, will manage to sell it elsewhere. 

    NYPD BLUE (Pilot script review)
    This revival of the ABC iconic show that was the network's longest-running prime-time drama until Grey’s Anatomy broke the record recently was a priority but apparently it failed to meet the expectations. The script was indeed flawed, but It's not dead yet: ABC brass remains high on it, saying they felt it needed a little more work. It will be reworked and likely undergo some reshoots for midseason consideration. 

    HEART OF LIFE (Pilot script review)
    This is one of the most surprising (and heartbreaking) rejections of the year. Based on the John Mayer song of the same name, this family drama had solid buzz all pilot season long. It seemed like a no-brainer based on the script. What ultimately happened is unclear, but ABC has opted to develop a new take on the concept and a new script. Such redevelopments rarely go anywhere but ABC is in desperate need of a big family drama hit, so my fingers crossed!

    THE HYPNOTIST'S LOVE STORY (Pilot script review)
    In a reassuring move, ABC didn't pick up this one to series. Based on a novel by Big Little Lies' author Liane Moriarty and produced by actress Heather Graham, this stalker soapy drama had disaster written all over the script. Surfing on the You / Dirty John trend wouldn't have been enough to make it a hit. Plus, coming from a network that's built a reputation on female-empowering shows, The Hypnotist's Love Story was the kind of throwback they really don't need.

    Still pending

    TRIANGLE (Pilot script review)
    ABC needs an ambitious, buzzy drama with the potential to raise curiosity and attract a big crowd. As a high-concept adventure and sci-fi fare, Triangle might have been a safer bet on the new Disney+ streaming platform where the stakes aren't quite as high, but it's nice to see that in the minds of ABC execs there's still room for ambition on network television. The unusual shooting location (New Zealand) and late start have delayed the decision on whether it gets picked up until after the upfronts.


    What they've ordered…

    For this very late entry in the comedy development slate to become the first pilot to get ordered to series, ABC must not have been pleased with their other choices. Especially since the mothership Black-ish isn't exactly a ratings juggernaut for ABC. Following The Big Bang Theory's Young Sheldon template, Mixed-ish recounts Rainbow Johnson's experience growing up in a mixed-race family in the ‘80s.

    A bit more racy than ABC’s current comedies (more realistic too), multicam United We Fall seems like a fitting companion for the network's #1 comedy The Conners. To me it feels a lot like a sitcom from 15 years ago, except it’s multicultural and the writing is top-notch. 

    What they've rejected…

    On paper, this Katey Sagal-starrer multicam comedy was a winner. Both (very) funny and emotional, it reminded me of Netflix's now cancelled One Day at A Time. Set in Minneapolis, it was about midwesterners having real problems. It was easy to imagine it paired with The Conners, with a central character different from Roseanne but similarly irreverent. Apparently it didn't came out as strong as expected. A redevelopment seemed to have been briefly considered, but it's seems it's not in the cards anymore. 

    As Modern Family will end its run next spring, Happy Accident, which comes  from two of its top writers Abraham Higginbotham and Jon Pollack looked like a more adult-oriented fare that could have capitalized on the long-running comedy's success. The script was not a no-brainer —  the story was predictable and it was not laugh-out-loud funny but the cast looks really strong with Matt Walsh, Joanna Garcia Swisher, Vanessa Williams and Kether Donohue as the leads.

    Poor Hannah Simone! For the second consecutive year, the ex-New Girl star had a comedy in contention at ABC that was ultimately rejected. Her The Greatest American Hero reboot was definitely not a good fit with the network and Hannah, said to be semi-autobiographical, was a mix between a family single-cam and a romantic/girly comedy that probably wouldn't have resonated with a large audience. Hopefuly the third time will be the charm.

    We'll have complete coverage of ABC's upfront presentation on Monday May 14th. In the meantime, check out our ABC 2019-2020 fantasy schedule and join us in the forums to share your opinion!

    Jean-Maxime Renault is a TV addict based in Paris who writes about television and movies on AlloCiné (aka "the French IMDB"). In 2015 he created Season Zero, a website about television development and pilot season, which is now a part of Primetimer. Follow him on Twitter @SeasonZeroCom