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ABC's 2020 Comedy Pilots, Ranked From Best to Worst

It's decision time for the alphabet network: stay the course or forge a new path?
  • Topher Grace stars in the ABC comedy pilot Home Economics.
    Topher Grace stars in the ABC comedy pilot Home Economics.

    Our resident script reader Jean-Maxime Renault continues his week-long look at the various comedy scripts in contention at each of the broadcast networks this pilot season. Today's victim: ABC

    The once-strong "ABC Funny" brand of single-camera family-oriented comedies has continued to falter this past season, perhaps best symbolized by the end of Modern Family, which exited the TV landscape last month a shadow of its former self.

    Ratings-wise, it's been years since the network successfully launched a new comedy. The Goldbergs and The Conners are its current comedy ratings leaders, followed by utility player American Housewife. Schooled, The Goldbergs' spin off, and Mixed-ish, the Black-ish spin-off, are both disappointments but their lineage will likely keep them safe for the time being. As for Black-ish itself, clearly it makes money, but I'm still not quite sure how exactly. (Yet another spin-off is apparently in the works.) Then there are Bless This Mess and Single Parents, which at that this point are both hanging on for dear life.

    All of which is to say that ABC faces a tough decision this year: do they keep fighting to keep the brand going with new similarly-themed entries or do they try changing up the formula for something that looks and feels different, risking even more mediocre results? For reasons unknown, they're not exploring the multicamera comedy genre much at all. They ordered one last year, United We Fall, but we're now in May and it still hasn't premiered.

    What we can gather from the coming season's pilot orders is that the network is betting on a mix of classic family fare, female-centered comedies and workplace comedies. More than ever, the number of comedies ordered will depend on whether ABC chooses to reduce its comedy slots. And with the coronavirus preventing them from shooting pilots, it's going to be that much more risky to pick up new shows. Comedies in particular are about chemistry and that's generally not something you can see on paper. Not that that will stop us from posting our script-based rankings for ABC's comedy pilots this development cycle:

    1. HOME ECONOMICS (ABC Studios/Lionsgate Television)

    Three adult siblings and their spouses live blocks apart: one household is in the 1 percent, one is middle-class, and one is barely holding on. Based on the lives of writer Michael Colton, his sister who has trouble making ends meet, and his brother who’s got too much goddamn money.

    This extended-family comedy feels very much in the vein of Modern Family and ABC could totally use it and brand it as its successor. It uses smartly-written sibling rivalry to explore the most taboo but also the most relatable of subjects: Money. Not only is it raw and funny, but it's also diverse and multicutural; one wife is Latina, another is Native American and there's a lesbian couple at the center. ABC seems to believe in it as they're ready to spend north of $300,000 an episode for Topher Grace's salary. This is the best script they have and if stars align, it's probably their best chance at success. It wouldn't revolutionize their brand, but done well, it would give it some much needed fresh blood.

    2. ADOPTED (ABC Studios)

    A former Green Beret returns home from military service to find that his parents have adopted a 12-year-old boy from Russia. His new brother gives him a fresh perspective on his family, his future, and how to adapt to civilian life. Inspired by a true story.

    This comedy from Jimmy Kimmel is clearly trying to be the next Modern Family, using the same interview-style narration, but you know what? It works. It's totally on-brand, funnier than most, and it even gets sweet and very emotional towards the end in a way I didn't expect. The characters feel special and they work well together, from the social media-obsessed sister to the Frozen-obsessed adopted kid. Seems like a no-brainer for series pickup to me.

    3. PROSPECT (ABC Studios)

    An idealistic young woman moves to the frontier to be a teacher, but her ideals are quickly tested when she learns that her students are rowdy ranch hands, not children.

    Described as a comedic Western with a feminist twist, Prospect is set in the 19th century but completely resonates today. I totally understand why ABC couldn't let this one go without giving it a chance — it's completely original and totally unexpected. It's also totally off-brand and a risk I'm not entirely sure the network is ready to take (or should take honestly). It reminds me of shows like Galavant from a few years ago or Apple TV+'s Dickinson, and doesn't seem to fit anywhere on their current schedule. Disney may be better off keeping this one for another of their platforms, like Hulu or Disney+, or even Freeform. On ABC proper, it seems unlikely to succeed.

    4. WILD CHILD (ABC Studios)

    The story of a teenage girl who grows up too fast in NY. Her young mom indulges her, cultivating a sister-like vibe, but when mom unexpectedly passes, her estranged father surfaces from rural upstate NY to raise her into the kind of person he thinks she should be.

    Written and executive produced by Suburgatory creator Emily Kapnek, Wild Child is not lough-out-loud funny, but it is quite charming. It starts as a “love story with a twist” How I Met Your Mother-style and then becomes similar to Suburgatory with another complex father and daughter relationship at its center. Creative and rebellious, the teenage lead has the show's best lines, and Quintessa Swindell (Trinkets) is a star in the making. The show's secondary characters are eccentric and the setting, a small town in upstate New York, feels different. I'll admit to having a bit of a crush on this show, but I'm well aware it's not exactly what ABC needs right now. Still, it's less risky than some of the others on this list and fully-owned, so why not?

    5. MY VILLAGE (Sony Pictures Television/ABC Studios)

    An empty nest mom wonders how she ended up alone while her children live their best lives thousands of miles away. Fed up with their unanswered texts and blocked from their Facebook feeds, she decides to take matters into her own hands and inserts herself into their lives.

    Despite a cringy pitch about yet another overbearing mom, this multicamera comedy starring Kyra Sedgwick is full of life and wit. It's cute, occasionally emotional and modern, yet timeless. Clearly not a classical family sitcom, it could pair well with The Conners.

    6. WORK WIFE (ABC Studios)

    The story of a platonic male-female team whose professional success, personal friendship and ability to share deodorant makes their lives work. Set in the world of real estate, Dani and Scott have taken the leap to start their own team and must rely on the yin-yang of their dynamic more than ever to keep their professional and personal lives afloat.

    Inspired by the real-life partnership of co-hosts and longtime friends Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest, who co-produce the project, Work Wife comes from The Real O'Neals writers David Windsor and Casey Johnson. Angelique Cabral and Tone Bell have been cast as the leads, which sets the show up for a bit of an uphill battle, as neither have great name recognition. Still, it's a funny workplace comedy with an original premise and some great characters.

    7. VALLEY TRASH (Universal Television/20th Century FOX Television)

    The Harmans, a scrappy, blue collar family living in the deep San Fernando Valley experience a major culture clash when their fourteen-year-old daughter gets accepted to a prestigious LA private high school filled with students and parents who want nothing to do with her, her family or their 818 area code.

    Starring Jason Lee in a familiar role, Valley Trash is produced by Fresh off the Boat creator/executive producer Nahnatchka Khan. While I personally found most of the network's other comedy scripts funnier than this one, I wouldn't be surprised to see ABC pick Valley Trash up to series. It's a bit like Clueless but more family-centered and from the POV of Brittney Murphy’s character.

    8. KIDS MATTER NOW (CBS Television Studios/ 20th Century FOX Television)

    A diva boss with no patience for working parents has a change of heart after she adopts a baby, casting her mother-of-three assistant as an unlikely mentor and upending the office dynamics.

    This female-led two hander, vaguely The Devil Wears Prada in tone, is a workplace multicamera comedy that frankly feels like a total misfit for ABC. I found it to be their weakest script this year by far; the boss isn't mean enough, the heroine isn't cute enough and the secondary characters are pretty much non-existent. Some re-writes could help, but as it is now, this one's a hard pass.

    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

    TOPICS: ABC, Adopted, Bossy, Call Your Mother, Home Economics, Prospect, Valley Trash, Wild Child, Work Wife