News Column

ABC Hopes Diversity Equals Ratings

July 16, 2014

By Gary Levin, @GaryMLevin, USA TODAY

ABC is entering the fall season with the most racially diverse lineup in recent memory and a triple-threat Thursday lineup from star producer Shonda Rhimes. Now all it needs is more ratings improvement.

The network finished last season in third place (down 3%) and ranked fourth among young adults, though it finished first in May among that crowd.

"We had some weakness in January and February, but we closed the season No. 1," says entertainment chief Paul Lee. "We are well known for our dramas," though "I would like to see (comedy) take it up a notch. We have progress to make, but we feel we have momentum, and we feel we have the tools to make it."

ABC has embraced diversity: How to Get Away With Murder's Viola Davis and Scandal's Kerry Washington, both African Americans, lead their shows, and Anthony Anderson stars in Black-ish, about an upper-middle-class family looking to reconnect with its roots. New comedy Cristela centers on a Hispanic family, and Fresh Off the Boat follows an Asian-American clan transplanted to Orlando.

"It's not so much diversity as authenticity," Lee says. "If you look at shows now that seem to lack diversity, they actually feel dated, because America doesn't look like that anymore."

The network promises some scheduling upgrades: Rhimes' Grey's Anatomy shifts to Thursdays at 8 ET/PT, a perennial weak spot, followed by her hit Scandaland newcomer Murder (starring Davis as a law professor). Comedy The Goldbergs will find a more compatible home on Wednesdays between The Middle and Modern Family. And new drama Forever, starring Ioan Gruffudd as an immortal coroner, has a chance of improving on a string of Tuesday failures.

ABC buys more new shows than other networks, many with shorter seasons, offering "a complete run of episodes without a break," Lee says, "and then another show in spring."

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Source: Copyright 2014 USA TODAY

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