ABC preps midseason

ABC Entertainment president Jamie Tarses acknowledged that ABC’s performance this year has been below expectations, but said she has high hopes that the web’s midseason programming plans will provide momentum heading into the 1997-98 campaign.

Tarses spoke to the Television Critics Assn. press tour after departing ABC Entertainment chairman Ted Harbert bid adieu to reporters. Besides the anticipated March scheduling announcements for the new Arsenio Hall comedy, which will move into the Wednesday 9:30 slot held by “Ellen,” and the launching of the David E. Kelley drama “The Practice” in the Tuesday 10-11 p.m. slot held by “NYPD Blue,” Tarses also confirmed a spinoff of “Home Improvement” titled “Father’s Day” and dramas “Leaving L.A.,” “Spy Game” and “Gun” for midseason.

“Father’s Day,” created by the “Home Improvement” team of Carmen Finestra, David McFadzean and Matt Williams, will follow the life of a widowed reverend trying to raise his three rambunctious children.

In a bit of corporate synergy, ABC also has a midseason reality-based show from Buena Vista Television, the syndie arm of parent Walt Disney Co. “Vital Signs,” BVTV’s first network show, will “re-create major medical emergencies.”

Although ABC is pleased with its midseason projects, the web will be counting heavily on movies during the February and May sweeps. In February, the network will have movies on Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Tarses acknowledged that is two movie nights too many but that the web needs to deliver big numbers to its affiliates.

As for current programming, the critically acclaimed Steven Bochco drama “Murder One” will wrap up its season as a miniseries in April. The web will run three two-hour broadcasts on April 13, 14 and 17. A decision on the show’s future will be made in May, if not sooner.

ABC’s other drama on the bubble is “Relativity,” which won’t air in the February sweeps. Tarses said the network likes the show but “there is not a lot in the ratings pointing to a long future for ‘Relativity.’ ”

On the marketing front, ABC unveiled a promotion plan with American Airlines tying frequent flying mileage to watching the newsmagazine “Nightline” during Feb. 17-28.

ABC is also teaming up with Wal-Mart in a “Good Morning America” promotion and is partnering with sister company Buena Vista Home Video by putting promotions of ABC shows and specials on homevideos including “The Rock.”

With regard to sweeps, the network is relying heavily on theatricals in both February (“Beverly Hills Cop III,” “Unforgiven”) and May (“Forrest Gump,” “Disclosure”). The telefilm “… first do no harm” starring Meryl Streep is set to air on Feb. 16 opposite NBC’s “Asteroid.” In May, the network will air the six-hour Stephen King miniseries “The Shining,” which Tarses said will get a TV-14 rating.

May will also bring the end of “Roseanne” as well as the first new “Columbo” movie in two years.

As for other scheduling moves, Tarses downplayed speculation that Tuesday-night comedies “Roseanne” and “Life’s Work” would be rested temporarily for Friday-night freshmen “Clueless” and “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.”

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