TV Upfront

Hi Ho! ABC Brings 'The Muppets' Out of the Mothballs (to Go Up Against 'The Voice')

Upfront Slate Largely Preserves the Status Quo

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ABC promoted the cast of its new shows ahead of its upfront negotiations with ad buyers, but much of its prime-time lineup is unchanged.
ABC promoted the cast of its new shows ahead of its upfront negotiations with ad buyers, but much of its prime-time lineup is unchanged.

It's time to play the music, it's time to light the lights…well, you know the rest. After a 17-year hiatus, "The Muppets" have found their way back to network prime-time TV, landing the 8 p.m. anchor spot on ABC's Tuesday night lineup.

Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest of Jim Henson's beloved troop of showbiz vets will be featured in a documentary-style, "beyond the felt" comedy that will delve into The Muppets' personal lives and interrelationships. (If nothing else, it would be edifying to know much more about what goes on behind closed doors between Gonzo and his girlfriend, Camilla the Chicken.)

Executive produced by "The Big Bang Theory" co-creator Bill Prady and Bob Kushell, late of the Charlie Sheen curiosity "Anger Management," the new spin on "The Muppets" franchise promises to appeal to viewers who grew up on the original 1976-81 series and their own kids and grandchildren.

The Muppets last appeared on ABC back in 1998, when the network closed shop on "Muppets Tonight" after two seasons. The initial run of 10 episodes averaged 13.8 million viewers, and while that's the kind of Friday night number that would make today's TV execs more googly-eyed than Cookie Monster on an Oreo bender, it was small potatoes back in the day. Per Nielsen, Season 1 of "Muppets Tonight" was only the eighth highest-rated Friday night show of 1995-96, trailing the likes of "Family Matters" and "Boy Meets World."

While there's no questioning the universal appeal of Fozzie Bear's stupid jokes and Animal's unbridled heavy metal id, "The Muppets" have their work cut out for them. The show will go head-to-head with two of the biggest draws on TV in CBS's "NCIS" and NBC's "The Voice," and faces a potential threat in Fox's new family-friendly comedy "Grandfathered."

"The Muppets" is one of just two new comedies on ABC's fall lineup, joining Ken Jeong's Friday night entry "Dr. Ken." This is largely a function of ABC's renewal of its entire Wednesday night sitcom lineup ("The Middle," "The Goldbergs," "Modern Family" and "Black-ish"), as well as its midseason hit "Fresh Off the Boat."

Preserving the status quo didn't stop at Wednesday night. The three-hour Shonda Rhimes block returns to Thursday nights intact, and on Monday nights ABC will continue to target older female viewers with the one-two punch of "Dancing with the Stars" and "Castle."

Bible boomlet
While much of the schedule looks familiar, ABC has slotted three new dramas in a few perennial trouble spots. The Tuesday 10 p.m. hour has been a conundrum for the past two seasons, as no fewer than four new shows ("Lucky 7," "Killer Women," "Mind Games" and this year's "Forever") have failed to flourish there. Josh Safran's FBI drama "Quantico" is the latest show to fly into the breach, where it will do battle with NBC's Neil Patrick Harris variety show and a CBS procedural.

Having scrubbed "Resurrection" and "Revenge" off the schedule, ABC will debut two new series in the Sunday 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. slots. Starring Don Johnson as a ruthless oil tycoon, the sudsy "Oil" (formerly known as "Boom") will lead into the Biblical saga "Of Kings and Prophets."

The latter is a continuation of a Bible boomlet that has broken out across network TV. While there's obviously a huge potential audience to be served by such fare, the results have been underwhelming. NBC's "A.D.: The Bible Continues" is averaging a modest 6.58 million viewers and a 1.4 in the 18-49 demo, while CBS's two-night event series "The Dovekeepers" this spring drew 7.67 million viewers and a 1.0 rating. (In CBS's target demo, adults 25-54, "The Dovekeepers" eked out a 1.4 rating.)

As is the case with NBC and Fox, ABC is holding a good deal of new content back for midseason and beyond. Upcoming dramas include "Wicked City" (formerly "L.A. Crime"), a neo-noir set in the early '80s, when cocaine and hard rock collided with great fanfare on the Sunset Strip; and "The Catch," a Shondaland production about a fraud investigator who's about to be duped by the man she loves. "The Catch" will slip into the Thursday 10 p.m. slot after "How to Get Away with Murder" concludes its sophomore run.

Also on order is the political ensemble "The Family," which stars Joan Allen, Alison Pill and Andrew McCarthy (among a cast of many more), and "Uncle Buck," an adaptation of the 1989 John Hughes theatrical that stars Omar Epps.

ABC's Fall 2015-16 Schedule (New programs in UPPER CASE)

8-10 P.M. — "Dancing with the Stars"
10-11 P.M. — "Castle"

8-8:30 P.M. — "THE MUPPETS"
8:30-9 PM. — "Fresh Off the Boat"
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"
8-8:30 P.M. — "Modern Family"
8:30-9 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"

8-11:30 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"

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