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10 Things We Learned From ABC’s Upfront

Variety logo Variety 5/16/2017 Cynthia Littleton
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With an “American Idol” revival, a “Roseanne” reunion and the Backstreet Boys performing, ABC’s upfront presentation at Lincoln Center had a certain retro flavor — but that’s not a bad thing.

ABC’s nearly two-hour presentation drew high marks among attendees for looking like an upfront. ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey walked the crowd of media buyers through the schedule and the rationale for the schedule moves and new series.

Rita Ferro, the new ad sales chief for Disney/ABC Television Group, got a big introduction with a pre-taped skit that featured her competing on “$100,000 Pyramid” with “Good Morning America’s” Michael Strahan and “Dancing With the Stars’ ” Tom Bergeron. “Things your clients most want? “Cocktails after the upfront?” she replied. No. “Data and analytics,” of course.

Here are 10 things we learned at the ABC upfront:

1. The “American Idol” deal is still so new ABC didn’t have time to do much other than flash a logo and run some clips carefully edited to remove any sign of a Fox logo. Katy Perry will be the lead judge on “American Idol,” a deal that probably closed with minutes to spare on its announcement. Dungey reiterated her statement about “Idol” being a good fit with ABC because of the “heartfelt, uplifting” stories provided by the contenders.

2. The current political climate has influenced one of ABC’s buzziest shows, comedy “The Mayor,” which Dungey introduced as giving a new voice to “old-school politics.” The network is clearly putting a lot behind the show, having co-star Lea Michele open the upfront presentation with a singing performance.

3. ABC really loves Jimmy Kimmel. Though the late-night host sat out his annual favorite upfront roast routine to be with his newborn son, Kimmel sent a note for Disney/ABC TV Group chief Ben Sherwood to read. “Dear friends…As many of you know, I am boycotting the ABC upfront this year to protest the cancellation of ‘Dr. Ken.’ ” But the network gave a big plug to Kimmel with a highlights reel and his emotional on-air testimonial earlier this month about his son’s heart problems and his thoughts about the nation’s health care debate. ABC also is giving Kimmel a primetime special for a live staging of classic sitcom scripts. And if that wasn’t enough, Dungey confirmed Kimmel will be back to host the Oscars in 2018.

4. “Blackish” star Anthony Anderson served as the opening emcee of the gathering. He didn’t try to out-Kimmel Kimmel, but he did introduce Disney/ABC TV Group chief Ben Sherwood as “the whitest person in America.”

5. ABC, like NBC and Fox, is hoping to thrive on live programming. In a display of corporate synergy, ABC is diving into live musicals with an adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” And nothing says live like a performance from The Backstreet Boys, who closed out the upfront, wooing advertisers while promoting Nick Carter’s new ABC series “Boy Band.”

6. “Scandal” has officially begun its farewell tour. A long portion of the presentation was dedicated to the groundbreaking series, which will air its final season next year. From a retrospective video to the entire cast gracing the stage for a thank you speech, “Scandal” was the star of the upfront. “We are and always will be citizens of Shondaland and ABC,” Kerry Washington declared.

7. Shondaland’s population is growing again, of course. Although “The Catch” didn’t make it to a third season, Shonda Rhimes has a new legal drama, “For the People,” that got a lengthy plug, and Dungey announced a straight-to-series “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff that will be set in a Seattle firehouse.

8. The “Roseanne” cast might have to work on its chemistry. Roseanne Barr, John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf and other original cast members came out on that familiar couch to talk up their eight-episode reboot. But the banter wasn’t exactly snappy. “This is gonna be fun,” Barr cackled.

9. Dungey described midseason drama “The Crossing” as “the biggest swing of the year.” It’s a reality-bending drama about refugees from a war-torn land — namely America 150 years from now. The clip made it clear it will be a marketing challenge for sure.

10. ABC deserves some credit for owning its mistakes. A clip reel touting the network’s many live specials included that moment from this year’s Oscarcast: “No, really, ‘Moonlight’ has won best picture.” And Sherwood acknowledged the network’s ratings shortcomings in his opening remarks. “We have higher standards for our performance,” he said. “We also have realistic optimism about the future.”

(Pictured: ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey)

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