NEW YORK — ABC’s new fall schedule should help the network stem its ratings hemorrhaging and maybe even increase viewership a bit, said ad agency execs after seeing the network’s upfront presentation Tuesday.
“ABC should improve marginally,” said Whitey Chapin, VP/manager, broadcast research, for TN Media. “It’s enough to get some sort of ratings increase. But it’s because they are coming off from low levels.”
The Disney-owned network held its presentation at 42nd Street’s New Amsterdam Theater, home to Disney’s smash Broad-way hit “The Lion King,” and those in attendance were treated to snippets of the musical.
After being introduced by ABC Entertainment chairman Stu Bloomberg, programming president Jamie Tarses — whose future with the network was questioned when Bloomberg was brought in over her — presided over most of the presentation.
Tarses said it was ABC’s goal to dominate both Tuesday and Wednesday nights, so the network will launch both nights with two of its strongest sitcoms.
“Home Improvement” will lead off Tuesday night, followed by “The Hughleys,” a new Touchtone sitcom about a black family who moves to the (mostly) white suburbs. “Spin City” will anchor the night at 9 p.m. and “Sports Nights,” a new half-hour about the behind-the-scenes life of a “SportsCenter”-type show, will run at 9:30 p.m. “NYPD Blue” will round out the night at 10 p.m.
“Dharma & Greg,” ABC’s biggest breakthrough from the current season, will begin Wednesday night at 8 p.m., followed by “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place” at 8:30 p.m. and “The Drew Carey Show” at 9 p.m. “The Secret Lives of Men,” a new series from creator Susan Harris, will run at 9:30 and then “20/20” at 10 p.m.
“Putting ‘Home Improvement’ and ‘Dharma & Greg’ at 8 o’clock are good moves,” said Chapin. “You need to lead the night off with a bang.”
However, Chapin wasn’t so sure ABC’s new shows will click with audiences.
“I don’t see people watching a show like ‘Sports Nights,” said Chapin. “Is it meant to be a comedy or a drama? I think it’s meant to be a comedy, but can you really have a comedy with that subject matter?”
Thursday will feature a new Warner Bros. drama called “Mr. Chapel,” followed by “The ABC Thursday Night Movie.”
“The Thursday movie is an interesting way to challenge part of NBC’s audience,” said Robert Igiel, U.S. director of broadcast for Young & Rubicam’s the Media Edge. “It’s also a good way for Thursday-night advertisers to put down some weight. It’s a smart move.”
For Friday night, ABC has assembled what it hopes is a restrengthened “TGIF” lineup, with “Two of a Kind” at 8 p.m., “Boy Meets World” at 8:30 p.m., “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” at 9 p.m. and “Brother’s Keeper” at 9:30 p.m. “20/20” comes next at 10 p.m.
Tarses acknowledged that ABC couldn’t do much worse on Saturday than it did this current season. She said the network will try to be lighter in tone and broader in appeal.
“America’s Funniest Home Videos” will launch Saturday at 8 p.m., followed by a new Columbia TriStar-produced “Fantasy Island” starring Malcolm McDowell at 9 p.m. Also from Columbia (and Mandalay Television) is the romantic drama “Cupid” at 10 p.m.
“Viewers can sit back, relax and escape for three hours,” said Tarses of ABC’s new Saturday lineup.
On Sunday, “The Wonderful World of Disney” stays at 7 p.m., followed by a new, additional night of “20/20,” and new home for the critically acclaimed drama “The Practice” at 10 p.m.
“Expanding ’20/20′ is smart,” commented Igiel. “And I like the idea of ‘The Practice’ at 10 p.m. It’s gives me something to watch after “The X-Files.”
On Monday, ABC’s highest-rated series, “Monday Night Football,” will move an hour earlier to 8 p.m., which will automatically raise the network’s rating for the night, said Chapin.
ABC News chairman Roone Arledge announced that beginning in March, ABC will begin airing a six-part, 12-hour series of specials called “The Century” hosted by Peter Jennings.