Moving to dodge Monday Night Football

ABC will unveil a fall schedule today that includes five new comedies and three new dramas, as well as a revamped Sunday lineup featuring “20/20″ at 9 p.m. and the David E. Kelley drama “The Practice” at 10 p.m. in place of the Sunday movie.

Opening up the Sunday timeslot for “The Practice” was a critical move because Thursday and Saturday nights have been black holes for dramas, and “The Practice” had to move from its Monday 10 p.m. perch this fall to make way for “Monday Night Football.”

In fact one studio, 20th Century Fox, actually lobbied to keep its new drama “Strange Days” off the fall schedule so it can be launched midseason in the Monday 10 p.m. timeslot instead of on Thursday or Saturday night. “Strange Days” was picked up for midseason, as was the Dreamworks comedy “It’s Like You Know.”

Rare occasion

It’s only the second time since 1964 that ABC hasn’t aired a Sunday movie from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. The last time was in 1987, and that experiment lasted only one season.

Gone from the ABC lineup this fall are Touchstone TV’s comedy “Soul Man,” which could go to UPN, and Universal TV’s “Something So Right,” which ABC picked up for midseason last fall after NBC dropped it. Also long gone are all the new dramas ABC launched last season and comedies yanked early on, such as “Hiller and Diller,” “Teen Angel” and “You Wish.”

In setting its schedule, ABC once again found itself with numerous holes to plug and a lack of anchor shows on several nights. New series will lead off Thursday and Friday nights, and a sophomore series will lead off Wednesdays. Only one frosh series, “Dharma & Greg,” is returning for a second season, as is “The Wonderful World of Disney.”

Of its new series, only one, “Sports Night,” is produced by ABC’s parent studio, Disney.

Much speculation

ABC’s new Tuesday and Wednesday comedy schedule was the subject of considerable debate, but in the end, ABC decided to move its Michael J. Fox starrer “Spin City” to Tuesdays at 9 p.m. to take on NBC’s “Just Shoot Me,” while “Home Improvement” shifts to 8 p.m. to face off against NBC’s “Mad About You.”

The new Greenblatt-Janollari comedy “D.L Hughley,” about a black family in a white neighborhood, will lead out of “Home Improvement” at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, and Touchstone/Imagine TV’s new comedy “Sports Night,” focusing on a fictional sports center, will air Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. “NYPD Blue” remains at 10 p.m.

On Wednesday, “Dharma & Greg” will shift down a half-hour to anchor the night at 8 p.m. against “Dateline” on NBC. ABC’s midseason sitcom “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place” will run at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, leading into “The Drew Carey Show,” which stays put. At 9:30 p.m., ABC will air a new series from Witt-Thomas-Harris called “Secret Lives of Men,” about four divorced guys who get together every week.

The Diane Sawyer newsmag will stay at 10 p.m., but will air under the “20/20″ banner instead of “Primetime Live.”

ABC had considered moving “Drew Carey” to Tuesday to take on NBC’s growing presence there, but now that NBC’s “Frasier” is moving to Thursday, the Alphabet web probably felt there was less of a need. “Spin City” also started out on Tuesday night, so it’s a logical choice for the slot, while the “Dharma & Greg”-“Drew Carey” combination will likely preserve ABC’s dominance on Wednesday night.

Thursday night, a trouble spot for ABC, will feature the Warner Bros. drama “Vengeance Unlimited,” starring Michael Madsen as a man who seeks revenge for the wronged, at 8 p.m.. Ceding to NBC, ABC will air a movie from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Friday lineup

ABC will add two new comedies to its TGIF lineup Friday. Warner Bros.’ “Two of a Kind,” starring the Olsen twins, will air at 8 p.m. Friday, and USA Studios’ “Brother’s Keeper,” about a pair of odd-couple brothers with a kid, will air at 9:30 p.m. Returning series “Boy Meets World” will air at 8:30 p.m., and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” will air at 9 p.m., with “20/20″ staying at 10 p.m.

ABC will completely revamp its Saturday lineup once again, with “America’s Funniest Home Videos” at 8 p.m., followed by a remake of “Fantasy Island” from Columbia TriStar TV at 9 p.m. and another new Columbia drama, “Cupid,” starring Jeremy Piven as a version of the title character at 10 p.m.

On Sunday, ABC will keep “The Wonderful World of Disney” from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., followed by “20/20″ and “The Practice.”

It will air “Monday Night Football” during all of prime time.

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