Just as Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been tasked to open ABC's Tuesday night lineup, fellow new series Once Upon a Time in Wonderland has the dubious honor of filling the network's problematic Thursdays at 8/7c timeslot, which hasn't produced a hit since the Ugly Betty days.
The Once Upon a Time spin-off, which tells the story of Alice (Sophie Lowes) returning to Wonderland to find her true love, will debut on Thursday, Oct. 10 in a slot that seems cursed over the last few years. My Generation was canceled after just two episodes, and Charlie's Angels was axed after four. Both Missing and Last Resort aired their short episode orders, but weren't picked up for additional episodes or second seasons.
However, unlike the male-targeted Last Resort, Wonderland is destined to follow its predecessor by drawing in the female-skewing audience that ABC is used to for a night that includes stalwart medical series Grey's Anatomy and hit drama Scandal. And though Once returned down 33 percent from last year, the fairy tale drama still drew 8.5 million viewers and a 2.6 rating in the 18-to-49 demographic on Sunday — numbers ABC certainly wouldn't mind bringing in ahead of Grey's, which returned down 30 percent (9.3 million, 3.4). Scandal's third season is expected to fare very well thanks to strong buzz from its ever-present Twitter fan base, critical recognition, Emmy nominations (and a win for Dan Bucatinsky) and new viewers brought in from Netflix and airing in syndication on BET.
But on Thursday nights, Wonderland will face somewhat tough competition. Parks and Recreation and The X Factor have entirely different fan bases, so they shouldn't be a problem. But genre series The Vampire Diaries, with its female-heavy audience, could prove to be a slight issue. However, it's The Big Bang Theory, which hit record ratings in its premiere hour last week, that ABC really has to worry about. The second episode of the CBS comedy drew 20.44 million viewers and a 6.1 rating, making it the current No. 1 show on Thursday nights. (Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)
For that reason alone, it was curious that ABC didn't decide to debut similarly geeky show Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on Thursday nights. The network did, however, sample a rerun of the premiere in that timeslot the same week it debuted. Both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Once have built-in audiences, but S.H.I.E.L.D. hails from a billion-dollar franchise, making it an obvious choice to save a timeslot that has been plagued by years of disappointment. Still, Once's audience should help boost the spin-off, if the series doesn't ultimately indoctrinate new viewers on its own. Wonderland mostly tries to narrow its focus on Alice and her world (with a few choice visitors, natch), instead of Once's deluge of dozens of fairy tale characters from different lands.
Only time will tell whether Wonderland can bring that same magic as the flagship series, but Once and Wonderland producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz are wasting no time in making sure the spin-off has solid footing. In addition to having a strong and recognizable female protagonist, they've already promised there will be some crossover with the Once characters, and they've enlisted Lost alum Naveen Andrews to play Aladdin baddie Jafar. It's no Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) making a cameo, but hopefully it will be enough to get ABC out of its Thursday at 8/7c funk.
Once Upon a Time in Wonderland premiere Thursday, Oct. 10 at 8/7c on ABC. Will you be watching?