The Middle and Modern Family premiered within a week of each other in 2009 and set the template for the next decade of ABC comedies: brightly-colored, well-written, big-hearted family sitcoms that look at the American experience from a particular demographic perspective. Most of the network's comedy successes since — and the entire current comedy lineup, including black-ish, Speechless and American Housewife — follow the loose formula of Modern Family and The Middle, whose own takes own the format each continue to work. In their ninth seasons, the long-in-the-tooth twosome are still the first and third-highest-rated comedies on the network, respectively (The Goldbergs is second).
But after a strong run, both comedies are winding down. The Middle is wrapping this year, and Modern Family is probably wrapping next year (it's been renewed through Season 10, and the creators are planning to end it there). That will leave ABC without the identity-defining sitcoms it's relied on for ratings for years. So what does that mean for the future of the Alphabet's comedy brand?
For ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey, the future is now. She's hopeful that at least one of the three new comedies the network is launching this midseason — Alex, Inc., Splitting Up Together and Roseanne — will catch on enough to fill the Middle-shaped hole in the fall lineup (with its focus on a blue-collar family, Roseanne is poised to do just this). Dungey will also be making decisions about what new pilots she'll be ordering from the network's development slate by the end of the month. The first of them was ordered Friday, according to Variety. It comes from Speechless writer Tim Doyle and has a typical ABC sitcom premise about a 1970s blue-collar Irish-Catholic family with eight sons.
In the longer view, Dungey says the network has "a wide variety of projects in development" and will stay committed to the diversity of perspectives that's become its signature. "The goal for me is to continue diversity in all forms, whether it be racial, religious or economic," she told TV Guide at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.
Some of the comedy projects in development include two with Alec Baldwin: a family comedy co-created by black-ish's Kenya Barris that got a straight-to-series order and a talk show. Dungey says the sitcom currently has a very promising outline and "we've got to get them to draft right away so that we can have something soon." As for the talk show, Dungey says they shot a pilot of the project, but it's still in the preliminary stages. "We actually shot four different episodes," she says, "two with a studio audience and two of them without," but she hasn't seen any footage yet.
Other projects in development include a live-action Jetsons series and a reboot of '80s comedy The Greatest American Hero from Fresh Off the Boat showrunner Nahnatchka Khan that will change the titular inept superhero from a white man to an Indian-American woman. Both have received put pilot commitments, which means they're likely to get ordered to series.
Despite the popularity of spin-offs and revivals on TV right now, nobody is seriously talking about a Modern Family spin-off at the moment — Dungey claimed it's "unclear" if Modern Family is even ending next year — but creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd told The Hollywood Reporter that they'll start thinking about potential related projects as the parent show comes to an end.
There's still time for ABC to figure all this out since Modern Family won't be laid to rest for at least another year. And with the anticipated Roseanne revival just around the corner (it premieres March 27), they might already have found another ratings hit to help ease the transition into the next phase of ABC comedy. We'll have to wait and see.