Big six overview: ABC

Alphabet works on self-help scenarios

After a pretty awful 2000-01 season, it somehow seems appropriate that one of ABC’s new fall comedies revolves around a self-help guru.

The Jason Alexander laffer is called “Bob Patterson” — and while it’s too soon to tell if it’ll be a hit, this much is certain: ABC sure needs the help.

A year ago, the Alphabet was comfortably ensconced in first place, cruising toward what many thought would be another seasonlong victory. “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” while fading somewhat, was mighty enough that ABC planned to air it four times a week. That much Regis, however, turned out to be too much of a good thing.

While older viewers largely remained loyal, the young adults who make up the financial backbone of most nets quickly grew tired of “Millionaire” mania. Viewers also rejected all four of ABC’s new fall skeins.

Now, the network has cut back Reege to twice a week and put a renewed emphasis on launching scripted hits with solid youth appeal. The ultrasuccessful Sunday and Tuesday editions of “Millionaire” have been axed to make room for what are arguably the net’s two biggest guns: “Alias” and “Bob Patterson.”

Spy drama “Alias,” airing Sundays at 9 p.m., reps ABC’s desire to move away from Important Dramas (think “Gideon’s Crossing,” “Wonderland”) toward lighter, aud-friendly fare. Thriller has been getting decent early reviews, but faces two tough competitors: Fox’s “The X-Files” and NBC’s latest “Law & Order” series, “Criminal Intent.”

Weekly grind

“It was one of the better done pilots, but the question is is it a really good two-hour movie or something you can do week after week,” says Steve Sternberg, senior VP and director of aud analysis for Magna Global USA, a Gotham-based ad buyer.

Equally important to ABC’s fall forecast is “Patterson.”

While spring debut “My Wife & Kids” did well enough to merit a second season, ABC hasn’t had a true breakout comedy hit since it launched “Dharma & Greg” four years ago.

Nobody’s expecting much from the new family comedy “According to Jim,” which means ABC needs Alexander to be its sitcom savior. Scheduled Tuesdays at 9 p.m. opposite NBC’s still-mighty “Frasier,” “Patterson” has a tough hill to climb.

Even if “Patterson” and “Alias” aren’t out-of-the-box smashes, ABC execs believe that they’ll do better with younger viewers than “Millionaire.”

“Our demos are going to improve with these shows,” says ABC Entertainment Television co-chairman Stu Bloomberg. “You will see a decrease in our median age.”

Still, ABC faces several potential land mines.

The net has radically shaken up its Tuesday sked, moving “Dharma & Greg” to 8 p.m. and replacing “NYPD Blue” with a new Steven Bochco drama, “Philly.” If “Patterson” tanks, the whole night could go down in flames.

Likewise, ABC is taking some chances on Wednesday.

While “My Wife & Kids” seems to have found a core aud, new laffer “According to Jim” seems unlikely to hold onto much of its lead-in. It could also hurt 9 p.m.’s “The Drew Carey Show,” which was already showing signs of age.

The biggest question mark: How will “NYPD Blue” fare against NBC’s “Law & Order” when the former moves to 10 p.m. Wednesday in November?

ABC is playing a pat hand Thursdays and Saturdays, but its ace in the hole could be Friday.

By putting the John Stamos caper “Thieves” at 9 p.m., ABC’s hoping to lure the viewers who last season made “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” a hit in the timeslot. If it works, that could help the still-struggling “Once and Again” finally find success in its new 10 p.m. slot.

Since NBC has the Winter Olympics and Fox has some of the most-talked-about rookies, ABC will have a hard time capturing first in adults 18-49. Bloomberg isn’t giving up, though.

“The rise and fall from 1 to 2 or 3 and back up again is a much shorter bell curve than it used to be,” the ABC honcho says. “It takes one ‘Survivor,’ one ‘Alias.’ It’s not unrealistic to think we have a shot to be No. 1.”

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