Shows that are “lighter, brighter, more emotional” and “give the audience a chance to connect and to feel,” are currently something ABC is focusing on, said ABC President Channing Dungey at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena on Monday.
Dungey also highlighted the importance of series with “close-ended storytelling” such as The Good Doctor and police procedurals, as well as family comedies that “push the boundaries of what family comedies are,” as the network revealed its mid-season premieres.
Perhaps most notable is the still-untitled Grey’s Anatomy spinoff that will retain executive producer Shonda Rhimes even as she signed a multi-year deal with Netflix in August. Rhimes will continue to see through existing projects and those in the works at ABC, while her new projects will be with the streamer under her production company, Shondaland.
The spinoff follows Jason George’s character Ben Warren as he joins a group of heroic firefighters at Seattle Fire Station. From captain to newest recruit, they risk their lives and hearts both in the line of duty and off the clock. It will join ABC’s TGIT lineup with a two-hour premiere on Thursday, March 22 at 9 p.m.
Executive Producer Stacy McKee said it will be similar to Grey’s Anatomy “in tone and humor and heart” with the addition of more adrenaline-driven action sequences. Like Grey’s, it will also pull inspiration from real life events.
The final four episodes of Scandal also produced by Rhimes, will also air on Thursdays beginning March 29.
“We haven’t figured out exactly what we’re doing for the final marketing of the last couple episodes,” Dungey said. The network has considered a retrospective, and says the ending is “going to be really satisfying to the gladiators who have taken the journey with us over these past few years.”
And ABC revealed a March 13 premiere date for new Shondaland series For the People, which follows six talented young lawyers working on opposite sides of the law and handling the most high-profile and high-stakes federal cases in the country.
Dungey says her relationship with Rhimes is “as strong as ever.”
“We had known for a while that Shonda was interested in stretching a different set of creative muscles,” Dungey said, adding broadcast and streaming offer different challenges. “I wish her all the best as she tries to explore those new options.”
“It’s not as if we’re going anywhere,” Rhimes said about her 15-year relationship with ABC. “It’s like saying I have five kids and I’m going to leave and go someplace else. It’s not as if there’s a separation date or something.”
The success of NBC’s reboot of Will and Grace is also “a rising tide that lifts all boats,” and Dungey has high hopes for the revival of Roseanne on March 27, featuring all of the original stars.
“I feel like that cast has stepped back into those roles without missing a beat,” she said. At the same time, she says the series feels relevant to today.
“What we’re talking about with that show feels very specific to what’s happening in our world,” Dungey said.
ABC is also launching The Bachelor Winter Games on February 15 at 8 p.m., in which 14 international bachelors and bachelorettes from such countries as Switzerland, Japan and Australia will compete in challenges from winter biathlon to ice dancing and, hopefully, find love. It’s no coincidence that the series will serve as counter-programming to NBC’s Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“It feels like that franchise has a lot of steam left in it,” Dungey said.
The Gong Show has also been renewed for a second season, and Mike Myers confirmed the rumor that he is, indeed, the show’s host – British comedic legend Tommy Maitland.
“Being the host of The Gong Show is a blast! Pure fun,” said Myers. “It is with great delight that I can finally admit that there is indeed a Tommy Maitland, and that I portray him.”
Digging deeper into the midseason premieres, Dungey says she’s excited about new series The Crossing on April 2 at 10 p.m., starring Steve Zahn as Jude Ellis, the sheriff of a small fishing town where refugees from the future wash up on his beach.
Executive producers said the show will take it’s time with emotional reveals, but won’t leave viewers having to “guess so much that their head is spinning.”
Midseason launches also include comedy Splitting Up Together starring Jenna Fischer (The Office) and Oliver Hudson (Scream Queens) as a couple whose marriage is reignited by their divorce. The series debuts March 27 at 9:30 p.m.
Hudson said this series appealed seemed different to him as soon as he read the script.
“There was something deep about it,” he said. “It wasn’t just about the joke. It was something relatable that people go through everyday.”
And comedy Alex, Inc., based on Alex Blumberg’s successful podcast “StartUp,” stars Zach Braff as Alex Schuman, a journalist and family man who quits his job to start his own company, and quickly discovers it’s going to be a lot harder than he thought. The show premieres March 28 at 8:30 p.m.
Deception on March 11 at 10 p.m. stars Jack Cutmore-Scott as Cameron Black, a superstar magician who, after his career is ruined by a scandal, begins working for the FBI using his art of influence and illusion to help the government catch the world’s most elusive criminals.
Meanwhile, American Idol will launch on March 11 at 8 p.m.; an all-athletes edition of Dancing with the Stars will debut on April 30 at 8 p.m., and season three of Quantico will return April 26 at 10 p.m.
Here’s a look at ABC’s midseason premiere lineup:
SUNDAY, MARCH 11
8:00-10:00 p.m. American Idol
10:00-11:00 p.m. Deception
MONDAY, MARCH 12
8:00-10:00 p.m. American Idol
TUESDAY, MARCH 13
10:00-11:00 p.m. For The People
THURSDAY, MARCH 22
9:00-11:00 p.m. Grey’s Anatomy spinoff (two-hour premiere)
TUESDAY, MARCH 27
8:00-9:00 p.m. Roseanne (one-hour premiere)
9:30-10:00 p.m. Splitting Up Together
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28
8:30-9:00 p.m. Alex, Inc.
THURSDAY, MARCH 29
9:00-10:00 p.m. Grey’s Anatomy spinoff (time-period premiere)
10:00-11:00 p.m. Scandal (new time)
MONDAY, APRIL 2
10:00-11:00 p.m. The Crossing
TUESDAY, APRIL 3
8:00-8:30 p.m. Roseanne (time-period premiere)
8:30-9:00 p.m. The Middle (new time)
THURSDAY, APRIL 26
10:00-11:00 p.m. Quantico (Season 3 premiere)
MONDAY, APRIL 30
8:00-10:00 p.m. Dancing with the Stars All-Athletes Edition