ABC is cutting its aging "Dancing With the Stars" back to two hours and one night next season, creating a slot for a new drama series based on the Marvel Comics world that's aimed at expanding the network's audience, its programming chief said Tuesday.
Condensing the celebrity dancing contest on Monday night "opens up Tuesday for a pretty aggressive play," said Paul Lee, ABC Entertainment Group president, whose network became the third of the major broadcasters to announce its 2013-14 schedule. The network's entire Tuesday lineup for the fall is made up of new series.
"Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," from hit-maker Joss Whedon of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "The Avengers" films, will help broaden the audience for ABC, which is the network leader among young adult women, Lee said. The comic-book based series presumably will attract some younger men to the network. "Dancing With the Stars" is big with older women.
The celebrity dancing contest, although still a ratings winner for ABC in its 16th season, has seen its overall audience decline and grow older, an issue for networks that get higher commercial ad rates for younger viewers.
Asked about how he felt putting "S.H.I.E.L.D." on at 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday against TV's top-rated drama, "NCIS" on CBS, Lee said the ABC drama will draw a different audience and has a built-in fan base from the Marvel franchise.
During a Tuesday afternoon network presentation to advertisers that included clips of the new series, Whedon said that "what I loved about 'The Avengers' became 'S.H.I.E.L.D.'"
The audience's warmest response, including a standing ovation, was for Barbara Walters, 83, who announced this week that she planned to retire from television, including as co-host of ABC's "The View." ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel's barbed jokes also went over big with the crowd.
He chided Madison Avenue for spending millions of ad dollars on a "network that rolled a 400-pound comedian off a diving board," a reference to the ABC reality show "Splash" and contestant Louis Anderson. Kimmel also took shots at the competition: "NBC is on a roll, aren't they. ... No, not a roll. A spiral."
Among ABC's other new dramas are "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland," a spinoff from the fairy tale series "Once Upon a Time," and the Steven Spielberg-produced "Lucky 7," about a group of gas station employees who win the lottery.
Lee also touted the network's new comedies, especially "Super Fun Night," written by and starring "Bridesmaids" breakout star Rebel Wilson as a single young attorney, and "The Goldbergs," about a geeky preteen growing up in the 1980s who puts his family's antics on videotape.
ABC is introducing a total of 14 new shows next season, following other networks that also have hefty freshman programming slates: Fox said Monday it's adding 11 new shows and is making its largest financial investment ever, and NBC said it would introduce 17 new series.
ABC will take a less traditional approach to scheduling, Lee said, breaking some of its series into two sets of 12 episodes with a break between them to avoid airing repeats. The gap will be filled by limited-run shows, including dramas, he said.
His competitors also plan to make use of "event series," the new label for the once popular genre known as the miniseries. Fox said this week its plans include a limited-run return for "24" and the thriller "Wayward Pines" from filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense").
Other new ABC dramas include "Betrayal," about a photographer and her husband with political aspirations, with James Cromwell in the cast; "Killer Women," a Texas Rangers drama focused on a female ranger; "Mind Games," with Steve Zahn and Christian Slater as problem-solvers for hire; and "Resurrection," starring Omar Epps, about a small town where the dead return to life.
The new comedies include sitcom "Back in the Game," about a single mom and her estranged dad, played by James Caan; the singles sitcom "Mixology" and "Trophy Wife," starring Malin Akerman as a newlywed who gets a husband (Bradley Whitford) and three stepchildren.
Also on tap for next season are "The Quest," a reality series from producers whose credits include "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Amazing Race," and the special "Toy Story of Terror," which puts the characters from "Toy Story" on a scary road trip. Original cast members Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are among the voice actors.
The network's canceled series are "Body of Proof," ''Malibu Country" and "Happy Endings," which Lee called a favorite but which failed to draw ratings.
The network is bringing back 10 current series including "Once Upon a Time," ''Modern Family," ''Scandal," ''Grey's Anatomy," ''Castle" and "Nashville." Moves are afoot for "Last Man Standing" and "The Neighbors," which will air on Friday.