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ABC brings Viola Davis, Felicity Huffman to its new schedule that includes 12 new series

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - ABC will add a new drama from "Scandal" and "Grey's Anatomy" powerhouse producer Shonda Rhimes to its schedule in the fall, giving her ownership of Thursday night on a network that's lagging behind its competitors among advertiser-favoured young adults.

Rhimes' "How to Get Away With Murder," a legal thriller starring Viola Davis, is among 12 new series that will occupy an ABC schedule that's heavy on crime dramas and rich in ethnic diversity. Rhimes is "one of the greatest voices on television," ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee said Tuesday before the network presented its new schedule to advertisers.

"Grey's Anatomy" will move to 8 p.m. Thursday, followed by "Scandal" at 9 p.m. "How to Get Away With Murder" will close out the evening at 10 p.m. That will bolster what has been a weak 8 p.m. slot for ABC and give the new drama a strong launching pad, Lee said.

"Scandal" will air opposite NBC's hit series "The Blacklist" later in the new season, but Lee said he's confident his series will stand up to the challenge, especially as viewers adept at time-shifting have allowed dueling series to both perform well.

Medical soap opera "Grey's Anatomy" can be racy, but Lee said it will have appropriate content for the first hour of prime time, traditionally home for more family-friendly programming.

ABC and its heavily female audience ranks third in viewership this season behind CBS and NBC, but is fourth among the 18-to-49-year-old demographic it cares most about. The network, known for its multi-ethnic casts, is adding shows focused primarily on non-white characters or with minority creators — something often missing from major broadcast networks.

The new sitcoms include "Black-ish," starring Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross as a suburban family trying to embrace their African-American identity, and "Fresh off the Boat," about an immigrant Chinese family pursuing the American dream in the 1990s and based on chef Eddie Huang's memoir with the same title.

"Cristela," another comedy, is about an ambitious law student (Cristela Alonzo) at odds with her traditional Mexican-American family.

Laurence Fishburne, who plays dad to Anderson's character in "Black-ish," called the sitcom "authentic and relevant" during an appearance at ABC's presentation.

He also used humour to sell the show to advertisers, saying if they like Michael Jackson or Michael Jordan or listened to Motown, "you might be a little blackish."

John Ridley, Oscar-winning writer of "12 Years a Slave" created the gritty "American Crime," a drama about a murder with racial overtones that features former "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman.

ABC hits "Modern Family" and "Scandal" have benefited from their inclusivity, Lee said.

"America has changed," he said. "We see that in the election cycle and we see that in everything."

Other new dramas include "Secrets and Lies," starring Ryan Phillipe as a murder suspect trying to prove his innocence, and "Forever," with Ioan Gruffudd as a New York City medical examiner with a secret: He's immortal.

The mystery in "Secrets and Lies" will wrap in one season, with new stories planned for future seasons, Lee said.

On the genre front, "Marvel's Agent Carter," starring Hayley Atwell, will air midseason between runs of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."

ABC cancelled "Trophy Wife," ''Mixology," ''The Neighbors," ''Suburgatory," ''Super Fun Night," ''Killer Women," ''Lucky 7," ''Betrayal," ''Back in the Game" and "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland."

Other ABC series to debut next season:

—"The Whispers," an alien invasion story with Steven Spielberg as an executive producer.

—"Galavant," a musical fairytale.

—"Manhattan Love Story," a comedy that exposes the unfiltered thoughts of men and women.

—"Selfie," a comedy about a woman with 263,000 online followers and no real friends.

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