ABC’s light touch

Alphabet web promises to soften schedule

Angst need not apply: ABC hopes to expand its reach next fall by developing lighter, more accessible series.

The Alphabet web has aired a number of dark, critically acclaimed but low-rated dramas in recent years (“Nothing Sacred,” “Once and Again”). Speaking to advertisers at the net’s pre-upfront development presentation Wednesday, ABC Entertainment Television Group co-chairs Stu Bloomberg and Lloyd Braun said they hope to cast a wider net by creating dramas that are “lighter in tone and broader in appeal.”

The net also says it hopes to return to its heyday of family comedies led by a strong point of view, such as “Roseanne” and “Home Improvement.”

ABC’s new philosophy? Take risks — as long as they are “accessible risks.”

Bloomberg and Braun will also have a wider variety of projects to choose from this year. The net has picked up 34 pilots this year, three times the number of pieces developed last year, when the success of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” allowed the web the freedom to develop fewer projects.

Raising the bar

“We invested our money strategically,” Braun said. “And we set the creative bar high.”

Indeed, as a sign of their confidence, Bloomberg and Braun announced that they would mail all of ABC’s drama and comedy scripts to ad buyers in the coming weeks.

“We want to put our money where our mouth is,” Braun said, pointing to a large stack of scripts towering behind him.

Script move is unusual; most advertisers don’t usually see much of a web’s projects until they’re filmed as pilots.

Dramas include the female spy thriller “Alias,” which the duo have dubbed “La Femme Felicity,” and the John Stamos actioner “Thieves,” which the net called “‘Moonlighting’ meets ‘To Catch a Thief.'”

ABC also has Sally Field in the Supreme Court drama “The Court” (previously dubbed “The Bench”), and the new Steven Bochco drama “Philly,” which Bochco said contains “all of the things that have tended to get me in trouble in the past.”

Braun and Bloomberg said they have also developed at least three dramas that can play at 8 p.m., such as the family drama “Being Brewster.”

“We’ve been dying to create a wholesome and engaging family show,” Braun said.

Alexander impresses

On the comedy front, Jason Alexander made a strong impression with ad buyers, offering a tour de force performance in character as motivational guru “Bob Patterson,” his laffer pilot. Other projects include the cooking comedy “Man in the Kitchen,” featuring Jeffrey Tambor and Mitch Mullany, the Paul Simms slapstick yukker “Criminal Mastermind,” and the “MASH”-esque “HMO.”

Also at the presentation:

  • ABC said it has pushed the midseason drama “The Beast” to summer or fall, depending on whether there’s a strike. The Imagine/Touchstone series was originally scheduled to air Monday nights after “Gideon’s Crossing” completed its run.

  • Bloomberg and Braun said they believed that ABC was the “best prepared” of all nets in the event of a strike. The Alphabet’s strike plans include “Monday Night Football,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” “The Runner,” and “The Mole,” as well as ABC News magazines, theatricals and the college bowl championships.

  • Reality series “The Runner” will begin following Labor Day, when the series’ first contestant is released (Daily Variety, March 21.)

“We believe this show will become a national obsession,” Braun said. “This show will be one of the biggest hits we ever had at the network.”

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