How ABC Became the King of Halloween: Your 2016 Preview

Mandi Bierly
Deputy Editor, Yahoo TV

If you’re looking to get in the Halloween spirit, just keep your TV tuned in to ABC. The network — which kicks off its primetime celebration of the holiday Oct. 19 at 8 p.m. with a 50th anniversary airing of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown — has a long history of great Halloween episodes (thank you, Roseanne). But it was in 2010 that the network decided to make it a true tradition for its family sitcoms.

“Early in the fall, there’s nothing we like more than having a hook for marketing to bring more attention to these shows,” Vicki Dummer, ABC’s EVP of Current Programming, explains. “We ask [the shows] to do it because we have evidence — those episodes typically get a two-tenths to three-tenths bump in their ratings — that viewers just really like seeing that kind of event programming, and it feels like a whole night of Halloween episodes is an event.”

Related: How TV Is Celebrating Halloween 2016

Creatively, Halloween is ripe for comedy — and family drama. “What’s terrific is to embrace all the holidays with our family programming because, as all of us know being part of families, that’s really where a lot of conflict comes for families,” Dummer says with a laugh. “But Halloween is really about that fun, and [now] we have some specific characters on some specific shows that love Halloween, and it’s their thing — Claire on Modern Family, Louis on Fresh Off the Boat, Kenny on The Real O’Neals. Those characters love, love, love the holiday. So you’re able to find out something very specific about those characters. And the costumes are fun. Like with Black-ish, they always pick a family costume to show us, which is just always delightful. And with Speechless, we see on the Internet all the time these amazing wheelchair costumes that people create, and that’s part of the episode we’re doing. So it just has such a fun, relatable element, and then you can also tell a great family story with Halloween.”

'Speechless' (Credit: ABC/Nicole Wilder)
Speechless (Credit: ABC/Nicole Wilder)

Before we preview the rest of 2016’s episodes, here are the answers to a few burning questions:

American Housewife is doing a zombie run this year. What if another show had a similar idea? “We haven’t had any overlap, I have to say. But we’re cognizant in our family shows of them going into similar territory, so we police it. I guess I’m the one, because I’m the one that has all the knowledge of all of them. So we just bring it to their attention if there are stories that are similar,” Dummer says. “We have never had a zombie run, so we’re very excited about American Housewife doing that, and it’s a terrific episode too. Katie [Katy Mixon’s character] has a great comment. She says, ‘Only Westport would combine a candy eating holiday with a run.'”

Related: Halloween on ABC: A Timeline of the Network’s Obsession With All Hallow’s Eve

Do the shows get bigger budgets for their Halloween episodes? “No. We haven’t been asked for more money to do them,” Dummer says. “Some of the shows just do them up big and take advantage of what’s going on in the zeitgeist or some sort of retro costume that is really cool. It’s more about getting the rights holders to agree to allow us to show the costumes rather than have it be a big, huge production that we’d have to spend more money on. If there are princess costumes or Marvel costumes or any of those things, you just have to get them approved.”

Why don’t we see crossover episodes at Halloween? “I’d do a crossover anytime. For Halloween, that would be so fun,” Dummer says. “Our comedies are produced by different studios, so it becomes a little more of a challenge. But I would love to do that.”

Is Halloween a big deal at the network’s offices too? “Oh, yeah. There are cubicles right now that are decorated,” she says. “Our digital teams, they have a contest and they do go to town. The Friday before Halloween, or if Halloween is during the week, all the executives bring their kids, and the kids trick-or-treat from office to office, which is the most fun.”

And now, ABC’s synopses of its family sitcoms’ Halloween offerings this year:

'Last Man Standing' (Credit: Tony Rivetti/ABC)
Last Man Standing (Credit: Tony Rivetti/ABC)

Last Man Standing, “Trick or Treat”: It’s Halloween, and the Baxter family is excited for their annual party, except for Mike, who’s reluctantly tasked with choosing the theme. In hopes of turning everyone against the holiday, Mike decides that maybe if the whole family has to dress up like each other they’ll end up making fun of one another. Eve dresses up like Mandy; and Mandy dresses down like Eve; Kristin and Ryan swap roles; and Mike shows up to the party as … Donald Trump!? The impersonating turns into bickering, but in the end the Baxters come together to support Vanessa, as she learns that she’s being laid off. (8:00–8:31 p.m.)

Dr. Ken, “D.K.’s Korean Ghost Story”: On Halloween, Allison is disappointed that the holiday doesn’t seem to scare Dave anymore, meaning her little boy is growing up, perhaps too fast. But that might change after D.K. tells a scary Korean gwishin (ghost) story. The Park family, as well as the gang at Welltopia, bring the story to life playing the various gwishins. (8:31-9:00 p.m.)

'The Real O'Neals' (Eric McCandless/ABC)
The Real O’Neals (Eric McCandless/ABC)

The Middle, “Halloween VII: The Heckoning”: As Halloween approaches, Frankie is taken aback when she discovers that if the circumstances ever arose where she and Mike got divorced, the kids would all choose to live with Mike. Meanwhile, Sue tries everything in her power to get her room back from Brick, and having to be so nice around girlfriend April (Greer Grammer) all the time leads Axl to lash out at his family. (8:00-8:30 p.m.)

American Housewife, “Westport Zombies”: Katie, jealous of Taylor’s friendship with neighbor Viv (Leslie Bibb), reluctantly competes in the Westport Halloween “Zombie Run” after she finds out they’ll both be running. Meanwhile, Greg and Anna-Kat get a little too much in character for the zombie part of the run’s obstacle course. (8:30-9:00 p.m.)

Fresh Off the Boat, “Louisween”: It’s Louis’s favorite holiday, and he makes every attempt to scare Jessica into the Halloween spirit, but she is buried in her word processor, drafting her first horror novel. Meanwhile, Emery and Evan debate costume choices, and Eddie and his crew are excited to party with high schoolers at Nicole’s house. (9:00-9:30 p.m.)

The Real O’Neals, “The Real Halloween”: When Halloween arrives, or what Kenny refers to as “the gay Super Bowl,” he plans to go to Boystown to watch the festive costume parade. In an effort to prevent Kenny from attending, Eileen agrees to let him throw his own Halloween party at home. Eileen’s tolerance is ultimately tested when Kenny recruits Stuart and his gay friends to join the big party, and he makes a BIG costume change. Meanwhile, Jimmy and Shannon plan to pull off an epic Halloween prank. ESPN sportscaster Neil Everett guest-stars. (9:30-10:00 p.m.)

'Modern Family' (Credit: Kevin Estrada/ABC)
Modern Family (Kevin Estrada/ABC)

The Goldbergs, “Stefan King”: Adam’s love of Stephen King inspires him to try his hand at horror writing. After learning the monster in Adam’s story is based on her, Beverly forces Adam to stay in on Halloween and rewrite it, hoping he depicts her as a better mother. Meanwhile, Erica is desperate to find a date to the costume dance and forces Barry go with her. (8:00-8:30 p.m.)

Speechless, “H-A-L- HALLOWEEN”: Jimmy is upset that the kids no longer want to participate in the family tradition of dressing up for Halloween. Maya tries to cheer up Jimmy by allowing him to take things off the family “Dead to Me” list. Meanwhile, Ray recruits Dylan to help work the school’s haunted mansion, while Kenneth is scared of losing his job when JJ gets drunk at a party. Even though Maya is furious, she is thrilled to see JJ having a “normal” life. (8:30-9:00 p.m.)

Modern Family, “Halloween 4: The Revenge of Rod Skyhook”: Luke’s Halloween party isn’t
the monster bash he dreamed of, and he is at risk of having the worst party of the year. Sensing trouble, the rest of the Dunphys decide that all his party needs is a visit from Rod Skyhook, a little promotion, and some adult supervision to get it started. Meanwhile, at the Tucker-Pritchett home, Cam faces off with his Halloween nemesis, while Lily and Mitchell try to save the day and work to keep him from going to the dark side. Finally, when Jay finds out that Manny is going to a party at the home of an old enemy, he enlists him to deliver a trick he will never forget. (9:00-9:30 p.m.)

Black-ish, “The Purge”: After Junior embarrasses Dre during a basketball game, Dre decides to remind Junior of his master pranking skills so he’ll never challenge him again. Meanwhile, the neighborhood participates in a “mischief night” during Halloween, where petty crimes become legal, and Ruby takes it too far with the kids. (9:31-10:00 p.m.)

'Black-ish' (Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC)
Black-ish (Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC)

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