ABC schedules frosh-soph mixer

NEW YORK — ABC Entertainment President Jamie Tarses will try to woo an audience of wary advertisers today with the unveiling of her first fall primetime schedule, featuring five new comedies and five new dramas.

The web is hoping the new lineup, coupled with a new marketing campaign that also will be announced today, will halt the ratings slide that dragged the network to third place in households this season.

The challenge is mighty, given a number of holes that have forced the web to kick off each night of the week with a show no older than a year. Freshman series are expected to lead off Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, while sophomore shows will open Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights. Sundays will be back-to-back movies.

While much of the schedule is fairly predictable, there are a few surprise omissions: Carsey-Werner’s “Grace Under Fire” was left on the cutting-room floor, although a large back-up order bodes well for the show’s return at some point mid-season. Two new Warner Bros. dramas that were hot last week won’t be on the fall sked either, and the studio’s “Lois & Clark,” which had previously been renewed, is now gone.

Although Disney topper Michael Eisner helped set the fall schedule, just three of the 10 new shows (all comedies) plus one of two Sunday movies are from the web’s parent studio.

ABC execs were keeping the new lineup close to the vest over the weekend, but sources say Universal’s new male-skewing drama “Timecop,” based on the feature film, will air Mondays at 8 p.m. leading into “Monday Night Football.” “Timecop” is probably a better fit with football than the drama that started out in that slot this season, Annie Potts starrer “Dangerous Minds,” which won’t return.

On Tuesday night, ABC will air family comedies up against NBC’s more sophisticated adult fare. The night will be led by mid-season sitcom “Soul Man,” a gamble given that only three episodes have aired. Webhead fears may be assuaged, though, by the fact that “Soul Man” built on its lead-in of “Home Improvement” repeats each week of its brief mid-season stint.

Airing Tuesdays at 8:30 is Columbia’s new sitcom “Over the Top,” produced by Robert Morton, Mitch Katlin and Nat Bernstein and starring Tim Curry as an unemployed actor. “Home Improvement” will remain at 9 p.m., followed by a new Disney-Imagine sitcom about a pair of comedy writers, “Hiller & Diller,” and “NYPD Blue,” which stays at 10 p.m.

ABC is expected to go with more upscale adult comedies on Wednesday, starting with returning Michael J. Fox sitcom “Spin City,” which is moving from Tuesdays at 9:30. Sources say the web felt it was important to keep its hit “Drew Carey” at 9 p.m., where it will take on NBC’s “3rd Rock From the Sun,” providing the earlier slot for “Spin City.”

‘Ellen’ hammocked

The hammock shows on Wednesday are 20th Century Fox’s new sitcom about mismatched lovers, “Dharma & Greg,” at 8:30 and returning sitcom “Ellen,” which has performed better at 9:30 than in earlier slots.

For Thursday, ABC is throwing two new dramas and a newsmag against NBC’s dominating lineup. The night is expected to start with 20th drama “Nothing Sacred,” about an irreverent priest, followed by Kushner-Locke’s “Cracker,” which is based on the British series and was developed by the top exec under Tarses, Rob Dwek, before he joined ABC. At 10 p.m., the web is expected to slot another installment of “20/20,” with “Turning Point” and other newsmags rotating in occasionally as specials.

ABC will stick with its “TGIF” strategy, despite losing “Family Matters” and “Step by Step” to CBS, which plans to challenge the web for families on Friday. Starting the night at 8 p.m. is one of ABC’s few new hits from this season, “Sabrina,” followed by “Boy Meets World” and two new teen comedies from Disney, “The Genie Show” and “Teen Angel.” “20/20” will stay at 10 p.m., meaning that aside from “Sabrina,” the entire night will feature shows owned by Disney-ABC.

While rumors last week had ABC putting in a movie on Saturday, the web will go with three male law-and-order shows against NBC’s sci-fi dramas. At 8 p.m., the network will likely start with Brillstein-Grey’s FBI drama “C16,” followed by Steven Bochco’s “Total Security” and David Kelley’s returning mid-season legal drama, “The Practice,” at 10 p.m.

On Sundays, the web will air “The Wonderful World of Disney” movie from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and another movie from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ABC may have decided to keep its second Sunday movie because CBS is strongly considering going with dramas, including “Chicago Hope,” in place of its movie that night.

Two Warner Bros. dramas, “The Doyles” and “Hungry for Survival” were top contenders but didn’t make the fall lineup. “Hungry” was given a mid-season order, and sources at the studio say a strong mid-season berth may actually be a better bet than a slot this fall on Thursday or Saturday, where ABC has struggled. Warner Bros. also has not yet settled with ABC on a penalty for canceling “Lois & Clark,” which was previously renewed, reportedly in connection with keeping “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” on several ABC stations.

Other series that won’t be returning include “Clueless,” which is heading to UPN; “High Incident,” “Murder One,” “Vital Signs,” “Relativity,” “Turning Point,” “Roseanne” and “Coach.”

“America’s Funniest Home Videos” is expected to return midseason. The 20th sitcom “The Burns Brothers” has been ordered for midseason, meaning that 20th was as successful at getting shows on ABC as Disney.

The most unexpected exclusion from the fall sked was “Grace Under Fire,” but sources say the web may still have given Carsey-Werner a large 22-25-episode midseason order. The move may be tactic to preserve relations with Carsey-Werner, which is launching “Grace” in syndication this fall, and whose execs ABC is rumored to have courted for positions at the web.

Meanwhile, ABC today is expected to announce a new branding campaign that celebrates TV and is designed to give the network a more lighthearted, irreverent image. Agency sources say the spots, which were created by TBWA Chiat/Day, declare “TV is good,” and ask the question, “What would you watch without it?” More targeted spots ask, “ABC, what would you watch without it?” Today’s upfront presentation is expected to be framed by the new campaign.

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