As It Builds Momentum, ABC Stays the Course With a Conservative Fall Schedule

Network keeps four nights intact, plans Muppets update for fall

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After a season in which ABC gained a lot of momentum, thanks in large part to its Shonda Rhimes-fueled TGIT lineup and freshman hits like Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, the network is making minimal changes to its 2015-2016 prime-time schedule, it announced today.

"It's our usual balance of stability and real ambition," said Paul Lee, president, ABC Entertainment, of a schedule in which four nights of programming remain fully intact: Mondays (Dancing With the Stars and Castle), Wednesdays (comedies The Middle, The Goldbergs, Modern Family and Black-ish, followed by Nashville), Thursdays (its three Rhimes dramas: Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder) and Saturdays (Saturday Night Football).

The network will finish the season in third place among adults 18-49 but feels it has the right pieces in place for future growth, particularly with its brand of "smart, emotional, inclusive storytelling," said Lee, who, true to form, peppered his remarks about the new schedule with words like "fresh," "noisy," "buzzworthy" and "muscular." ABC was also the only one among the big four broadcasters to see a boost in its 18-49 audience this season.

On Tuesdays, ABC is shifting Fresh Off the Boat to 8:30 p.m. ET in order to kick off the night with The Muppets, back in a prime-time series for the first time since Muppets Tonight ended in 1998. "This is not your grandmother's Muppets, this is not the old Muppets," said Lee, explaining that while the original '70s series spoofed variety shows, the new take from The Big Bang Theory executive producer Bill Prady will satirize mockumentaries like The Office and Modern Family. 

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. remains on Tuesdays at 9 p.m., followed by Quantico, a new FBI drama set at the training facility about recruits on the base. The show's star Priyanka Chopra "is a quintessential ABC heroine," said Lee, adding that the show "tested very well with men," which should make it a compatible leadout for S.H.I.E.L.D.

Midseason, Fresh Off the Boat will return to its 8 p.m. slot to make way for The Real O'Neals, a family comedy starring Martha Plimpton about a Catholic clan whose teenage son comes out as gay. 

ABC's Friday lineup remains nearly the same: Last Man Standing at 8 p.m., Shark Tank at 9 p.m. and 20/20 at 10 p.m. New comedy Dr. Ken starring Ken Jeong (a real-life doctor) as a doctor with no bedside manner, fills the 8:30 p.m. slot vacated by canceled sitcom Cristela.

On Sunday, America's Funniest Home Videos and Once Upon a Time kick off the night, followed by a pair of "big, muscular, broad soap operas." Oil, at 9 p.m., stars Chace Crawford and Don Johnson and focuses on a North Dakota oil boom. (Lee stressed it's not a Dallas or Dynasty update.)

At 10 p.m., there's Of Kings and Prophets, a biblical saga and retelling of the David and Saul story starring Ray Winstone. "This is not your parent's Sunday school Bible show," said Lee. "It truly is the original domestic soap opera."

ABC is sticking with its standard practice of splitting its full-season shows into two halves and bringing in "gap shows" midseason to fill the hiatuses. Marvel's Agent Carter will relieve Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., while Quantico will make way for Wicked City, an anthology that follows a different case each season set in a different era of L.A. history. Season 1, which takes place in 1982, centers on a pair of "Bonnie and Clyde serial killers," said Lee.

During Nashville's hiatus, Secrets and Lies will return for a second season with Juliette Lewis' detective character from the first season tackling a new case. And Rhimes' new show The Catch, a forensic thriller starring The Killing's Mireille Enos, will step in for How to Get Away With Murder. "She has done it again," said Lee of Rhimes, who executive produces The Catch but did not create it.

Of Kings and Prophets will give way to The Family, a drama starring Joan Allen about a politician's son who comes back from the dead

Other midseason shows waiting in the wings include Uncle Buck, a remake of the 1989 John Candy comedy with an African-American cast. "The key to using big feature brands is you have to bring something really fresh," said Lee of the show's star, Mike Epps.

Anthology drama American Crime will return midseason with what Lee called "a total reset"—new crime, new location and new characters—with some of the Season 1 cast returning in different roles (much like American Horror Story).

And despite the high-profile exit of Patrick Dempsey from Grey's Anatomy last month, Lee says that neither that show, nor the long-running Castle, will be ending next season. "I would like to see them run for many, many years to come," he said.

ABC FALL 2015-2016 SCHEDULE (New programs in ALL CAPS)


8-10 p.m. — Dancing With the Stars

10-11 p.m. — Castle


8-8:30 p.m. — THE MUPPETS

8:30-9 p.m. — Fresh Off the Boat (new time)

9-10 p.m. — Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

10-11 p.m. — QUANTICO


8-8:30 p.m. — The Middle

8:30-9 p.m. — The Goldbergs

9-9:30 p.m. — Modern Family

9:30-10 p.m. — Black-ish

10-11 p.m. — Nashville


8-9 p.m. — Grey's Anatomy

9-10 p.m. — Scandal

10-11 p.m. — How to Get Away With Murder


8-8:30 p.m. — Last Man Standing

8:30-9 p.m. — DR. KEN

9-10 p.m. — Shark Tank

10-11 p.m. — 20/20


8-11 p.m. — Saturday Night Football


7-8 p.m. — America's Funniest Home Videos

8-9 p.m. — Once Upon a Time

9-10 p.m. — OIL



American Crime, The Bachelor, Beyond the Tank, THE CATCH, THE FAMILY, Galavant, Marvel's Agent Carter, THE REAL O'NEALS, Secrets and Lies, UNCLE BUCK, WICKED CITY

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.