2011-12 season in review: ‘Once Upon a Time’ helps to save ABC

Did the alphabet earn a grade in its name?

Now that the 2011-12 TV season is officially over (and we have had ample time to digest what the five major networks have done), it’s time to look back and reflect. Over the coming week, we will have analysis on the Big 5 networks’ performance, including highlights, lowlights, and what we can expect to change moving forward.

With all of this in mind, we are going to start with a network that saw itself move down to fourth place ahead of only The CW this year — ABC.

What worked – “Once Upon a Time” may very well be the network’s saving grace at the moment. It had one of the best premieres of the year courtesy of a 4.0 rating in the 18-49 demographic, and it retained a solid percentage of that leading up to its finale (which drew a 3.3 that is solid for mid-May). This show is in many ways their new “Lost,” and so long as they can structure the show to avoid long hiatuses during year (which they did this time courtesy of a late premiere), it could be a consistent player in the long-term.

ABC also found stability when it comes to one of the toughest nights on TV — Fridays. Thanks to the blossoming of “Shark Tank,” they started to provide ample competition to CBS in the demo — and to make matters even better, they were drawing in more young people. If you couple this with a strong Wednesday night anchored by “Modern Family” and a promising young show in “Revenge,” there are some nice building blocks here for the network to work around moving forward.

The problems – This season, we learned that ABC has really no idea what to do with Tuesday nights. “Dancing with the Stars” viewership plummeted, “Work It” and “Man Up!” were canceled, and “Cougar Town” moved over to TBS. “Last Man Standing” and “Body of Proof,” meanwhile, are still lucky to be alive. The only show that fared decently outside of “Dancing” was “Private Practice,” and it was questionable when it comes to its return.

While we praise the network for finding a pair of new stars in “Revenge” and “Once Upon a Time,” these, “Modern Family,” and “Shark Tank” are really its only young stars to build around. “Castle” does solid but unspectacular business, and “Grey’s Anatomy” is certainly nearing the end of its run. It is never a good thing when so many of your new shows fail — in addition to “Man Up!” and “Work It,” you can add to the list “Pan Am,” “GCB,” “Missing,” and the “Charlie’s Angels” reboot that flopped so long ago it actually feels like a different TV season (and is really the biggest scar on the network’s record since it had no business being picked up in the first place).

Will the network turn it around? – As hit-and-miss as ABC was this year, there are still some high hopes here. Moving “Last Man” to Fridays is an ambitious move to revive the “TGIF” block, and it should work far better than a young show with a college audience (“Community”) airing on a party night. The “All-Stars” season of “Dancing” has a chance to bring back viewers, and at least the other members of their Wednesday comedy block do reasonably good business and are all young. The biggest risk? Moving the “Dancing” results show to 8:00 in the fall (a tough slot for the network the past few years), and then airing “Happy Endings” against a show with a similar feel in “New Girl.”

There are still some big holes at 10:00 p.m. across the schedule but the promise of new shows — in particular the Terry O’Quinn-led “666 Park Avenue” — suggests that good things could be on the horizon. You at least get the feeling here that despite the fourth-place finish (which in itself is really just due to NBC having football), ABC knows who they are where they are going. With NBC airing so many comedies all across the fall schedule, we’re really not so sure about them.

Do you think that ABC is better prepared for the future than some of the other networks, and how would you grade their season as a whole?

Photo: ABC

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