ABC's 2014-15 Season: More Marvel, A Musical Comedy And Must-See Shonda TV

For a network that didn’t appear to be doing very well during the last year, ABC next fall will begin the 2014-15 season with surprising stability. The network will return three nights intact (including Saturday, which no longer counts) and three with only one new series nestled amid established successes.

Of course, the term “successes” is relative. Many of ABC’s returning shows are getting quite old, and a number of them aren’t exactly ratings blockbusters. In that regard, it would seem that the fall lineup ABC announced on Tuesday may be playing it too safe. With the possible exceptions of “Scandal” and “Shark Tank,” it is likely that most of the veteran shows on its schedule are doomed to negative year-to-year ratings comparisons in September, October and beyond.

Still, across the board, stability is generally better than widespread instability, as other networks are certain to be reminded when the 2014-15 season begins. And ABC has a large roster of intriguing back-up series that it will use to replace fall failures and also utilize from December through February for the increasingly common scheduling strategy known as splitting seasons. (That’s when many shows will “rest” after their fall runs and return in late February or early March to finish out the traditional broadcast season.) Also, some ABC shows will run from September through February and then end their seasons, making room for more new series. (This practice worked very well for “Resurrection,” which premiered two months ago.)

Thursday, arguably the most exciting night on ABC’s fall schedule -- and also one that will be historic in many ways -- will see all three of the network’s prime-time hours turned over to its most important and enduring producer, Shonda Rhimes. I don’t believe any producer has ever owned an entire three-hour block of a network’s schedule, although the prodigious Aaron Spelling may have done so at one point during his long association with ABC.

The night will consist of the aggressively and refreshingly adult “Grey’s Anatomy,” which is headed into its 10th season and has been on television for so long it has outlived concerns about programming content at 8 p.m.; “Scandal,” the network’s most talked about show; and the new “How to Get Away with Murder,” a tantalizing legal thriller starring Viola Davis that is already one of the fall season’s most eagerly anticipated new series.

In other historic talking points, it is worth noting that two of the three shows feature an African-American woman as their leads. Indeed, ABC’s new batch of freshmen series may collectively represent one of the most ethnically diverse groups of new shows ever launched in one season by a single broadcast network.

If there is one potential train derailment of a night on ABC’s fall schedule it’s Tuesday, which will start off with “Selfie” and “Manhattan Love Story,” two new rom-coms that are poised to challenge NBC’s new “Marry Me” and “A to Z” for the title of Most Annoying Things on Broadcast TV. The audience for those series would seem to have nothing at all in common with the one that is expected to continue supporting the show that follows, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” arguably the most disappointing freshman of 2013-14 and one that tested the patience of its built-in fan base for a staggering five months before it began to resemble a program worth watching. Is it strong enough to be a tentpole for the night?

“S.H.I.E.L.D.” will lead into “Forever,” a drama about an immortal medical examiner with so many years of experience (approximately 200 of them) that there are few mysteries he can’t figure out, except for the one about why he can’t die.

Meanwhile, there are a number of new shows that ABC will have waiting in the wings that are hugely intriguing, including dramas “American Crime,” “Secrets and Lies” and “The Whispers”; musical comedy “Galavant” (the network’s first stab at this genre since “Cop Rock” back in 1990); and “Fresh Off the Boat,” one of the most favorably received comedies of the many introduced during upfront week.

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