How to fix ABC in 5 easy steps

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The season is only two weeks old, but ABC has sprung a leak

While two weeks does not a season make, it is more than enough time to know that there are problems aplenty at ABC. Based on the Live Plus Same Day data from Nielsen from Sept. 19 through Oct. 2, ABC remains the distant No. 3 network in both total viewers (6.07 million) and adults 18-49 (1.5 rating/5 share), dipping by 12% in both categories from the same period last year. ABC also ranks No. 4 in adults 18-34 (1.0/ 5), with the erosion more severe at 23%, and third in adults 25-54 (1.9/ 6: -14%).

From the look of things, particularly the weak ratings for the debut episodes of "Notorious" and "Convicted," ABC will have a long, bumpy road ahead. But before we talk solutions, let’s take a look at what’s working.

New Wednesday sitcom "Speechless," which has already been renewed for the remainder of the season, turns out to be a good fit between "The Goldbergs" and "Modern Family." Combined with "black-ish" at 9:30 p.m., ABC can expect a respectable performance from its midweek chucklers.

The two-hour Wednesday comedy block is a solid segue into drama "Designated Survivor" at 10 p.m., which has also been granted a full season order. ABC made the right decision dumping "Nashville" in favor of this latest Kiefer Sutherland vehicle.

"Dancing With the Stars," meanwhile, still has an audience on Monday (albeit mainly among the over-50 crowd) and old faithful "Grey’s Anatomy," now in season 13, gives ABC solid lead-in support on Thursday. I imagine at this point that "Grey’s Anatomy" will surpass NBC’s "ER," which aired from 1994 to 2009, as history’s longest-running medical drama.

Since the expanded Tuesday sitcom block – "The Middle," newbie "American Housewife," "Fresh Off the Boat" and "The Real O’Neals" – does not debut until next week, all I can do is hope it will offer an alternative to CBS and NBC. But I would not expect much.

Now for what’s wrong. Issue No. 1 is the new dramas. "Notorious" is losing about half of the "Grey’s" lead-in audience on Thursday, while Monday’s "Conviction" (10 p.m.) debuted to far lower numbers on Oct. 3 than its time-slot predecessor, "Castle," did a year ago—when that show was already fading. But I have never been an advocate for pulling shows after only a handful of episodes; even a diluted audience deserves some closure.

If "Conviction" is still struggling by November, I would move sophomore "Quantico" out of Sunday and into the Monday 10 p.m. hour, where still-prosperous "Dancing With the Stars" can offer the lead-in support it deserves.  That is what ABC should have done originally.

The next problem for ABC is the Friday 8-9 p.m. combination of aging "Last Man Standing" (yes…this Tim Allen snoozefest is still on the air!) and sophomore "Dr. Ken," easily the worst comedy currently airing on any network. "Dr. Ken," in particular, has negatively impacted critical favorite "Shark Tank" at 9 p.m., which has dipped to record low ratings. The immediate fix is to move "Shark Tank" to 8 p.m. to anchor the evening.  

ABC also must come to terms with the fact that "Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD" will never have an audience no matter when it airs. So instead of wasting the more valuable Tuesday 10 p.m. hour (which leads into local news), I would position "SHIELD" in the Friday 9 p.m. out of "Shark Tank." Since the strength of the Marvel-themed hour stems solely from DVR usage, I would not be as concerned about the live ratings on Friday (where HUT levels are lower). As it stands, "SHIELD" will not do any worse on Friday than it would on Tuesday, which is more valuable financially.

Saturday, of course, remains a breeding ground for leftovers, and I cannot fault ABC for populating the evening with College Football. But Sunday is a complete mess; even granddaddy "America’s Funniest Home Videos" has lost steam at 7 p.m. So let’s make this the last season of "Once Upon a Time." I would never again rest a series for an entire season like ABC did with crime solver "Secrets and Lies." I would consider repositioning "Notorious" on Sunday. And I would ask Tom Bergeron if he wants to return to "AFV." No offense, Alfonso Ribeiro, but there is just something about that guy that makes you want to tune in.

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