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‘Crossing’ to bow ad-free

Johnson & Johnson sponsors ABC drama

Johnson & Johnson has an elixir in mind to fit the premiere of “Gideon’s Crossing” into its hourlong time period: flat-line the commercials.

Rather than cut down the medical drama for time, ABC has pacted with Johnson & Johnson to sponsor the commercial-free debut of “Gideon’s Crossing” on Wednesday, Oct. 11 — the first time a network series drama has aired sans ads.

Under the deal, Johnson & Johnson will underwrite part of the episode’s cost. In exchange, the health care company will get a 60-second spot before and after the show. ABC will eat the majority of the excised ad time, however.

“We’re taking a hit financially to allow a great show to find its audience,” said ABC Television Network president Alex Wallau.

Sources believe that ABC is selling 30-second spots on “Gideon’s” at about $150,000 — pretty standard for a new drama, especially against tight competition like “Law & Order.” That means an average episode might fetch in the ballpark of $2.4 million.

Andrea Alstrup, corporate vice president of advertising at Johnson & Johnson, said the company isn’t asking for product placement in the episode — although a quick look on the show’s set found at least one instance of the company’s products.

“Any hospital show will have Johnson & Johnson products because we’re all over hospitals,” she noted.

“Gideon’s Crossing,” from Touchstone TV, stars Andre Braugher as the chief of experimental medicine at a teaching hospital.

Executive producer Paul Attanasio said the interruption-free format will allow him to add an additional 13 minutes of content to the show.

“What you’re really going to gain is a fuller sense of the work — the chaos and dynamics of a teaching hospital,” he said.

Before the Johnson & Johnson deal, ABC execs had kicked around debuting “Gideon’s Crossing” with a 90-minute episode but ultimately nixed that idea.

NBC previously aired the 1997 broadcast premiere of “Schindler’s List” commercial free and sponsored by Ford. But that was partly due to the film’s intense content.

Along with “Crossing,” the Alphabet web has also finally finalized its fall premiere dates — at least for now. Like its network brethren, ABC has been in a holding pattern as presidential candidate George W. Bush decides whether or not to accept the non-partisan presidential debate commission’s proposed face-off dates.

ABC execs said they couldn’t wait any longer, and even decided to premiere two of its new series — “Gideon’s” and “The Geena Davis Show” — opposite the possible debates.

Should those debates go forward, ABC may opt to do some last-minute schedule juggling. It’s unlikely, for example, that ABC would want to premiere its only new drama with a low-rated debate lead-in.

As it currently stands, ABC bows its Tuesday night lineup (except “Once and Again”) on Oct. 3, including the premiere of “Geena Davis.”

The web’s Wednesday night sked returns Oct. 4, except “Spin City” and “Gideon’s,” which debut the following week on Oct. 11. In those shows’ place, a special seg of “Norm” airs at 9:30 p.m., followed by an hourlong “Too Hot for 8 p.m.” edition of “Whose Line Is It Anyway.”

Thursdays return in pattern on Oct. 12, while Fridays — including new skeins “The Trouble With Normal” and “Madigan Men” — launch Oct. 6. The web’s “Big Picture Show” returns Oct. 7 with “Ransom,” and Sundays are back on Oct. 8.

As it stands, presidential or vice presidential debates are lined up for Oct. 3, Oct. 5, Oct. 11 and Oct. 17. Representatives from both campaigns meet with the non-partisan committee today to finalize debate schedules.

Barring any final compromises, sources now expect that the debates will go ahead as originally scheduled. If so, the major networks (except NBC, which had to delay its premieres due to baseball coverage) will have to rejigger their season premieres at the last minute.

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