TV Upfront

'Murder' By Numbers: ABC Gives Early Renewal to Shonda Rhimes Drama

Spring Pickup Rare for the Network

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ABC on Thursday night momentarily slipped out of character, giving fans of its hit freshman drama "How to Get Away with Murder" an advance heads up on the series' future prospects.

In a teaser that aired immediately after the two-hour season finale of "How to Get Away with Murder," ABC promised that Shonda Rhimes' kicky potboiler "will be back with a whole new season of insanity" in the fall.

While a return engagement for ABC's new hit was never in doubt -- "Murder" draws 3.78 million viewers in the adults 18-to-49 demo, doubling the average deliveries for all other new series and trailing only Fox's mega-smash "Empire" for bragging rights as the year's highest-rated new show -- the network rarely announces renewals well in advance of its May upfront presentation.

ABC last season renewed just 3 of its 14 new scripted series, announcing pickups for "Resurrection," "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "The Goldbergs" on May 8, just five days before entertainment president Paul Lee introduced the 2014-15 prime time schedule to media buyers and advertisers.

By way of contrast, CBS fans should keep their eyes peeled next month for news from the Eye network. In each of the last three years, CBS in mid-March has announced a slew of 18 or more series renewals.

The early "Murder" pickup should all but guarantee a second heaping helping of ABC's successful Shonda-centric "Grey's Anatomy"/"Scandal"/"Murder" block, which the network promotes as "TGIT," or "Thank God It's Thursday." The last time a broadcaster ceded an entire night to a single showrunner was back in the spring of 1982, when Aaron Spelling ran the table on Saturday nights with "T.J. Hooker," "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island."

As for the rest of ABC's freshman roster, the comedies "Black-ish" and "Fresh Off the Boat" are odds-on favorites for renewal, while the future looks bleak for the likes of "Forever," "Galavant" and "Cristela." Along with the aforementioned TGIT shows, look for fresh orders for veteran series such as "Modern Family," "The Middle," "The Goldbergs," "Once Upon a Time" and "Shark Tank."

The full picture will emerge on Tuesday, May 12, when ABC officially describes its 2015-16 programming schedule in New York.

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