Big dose of reality at ABC

Confident Alphabet pushes reality fare

With no sign that the reality craze is diminishing, ABC execs say it’s impossible to ignore the red-hot genre.

Speaking at the Alphabet’s portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour, ABC Entertainment TV Group chair Lloyd Braun also said he feels the web has regained its ratings footing this season.

“While we’re far from satisfied, it’s safe to say we delivered on the goals we had for fall,” said Braun. “We have a young schedule, which means the best days should still be ahead.”

But while Braun and ABC Entertainment prexy Susan Lyne pointed to the success of new comedies such “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” they acknowledged that reality — particularly “The Bachelor” — was a big part of the net’s improved performance.

“There’s no way the networks are going to ignore a genre that has this kind of appeal,” said ABC Entertainment prexy Susan Lyne. “Our 18-34 numbers are up across the board, and we credit that to ‘The Bachelor’ as a promotional platform.”

Real wheels

Alphabet execs have not just tested the waters, they’ve dived straight in. ABC is airing a whopping six new reality skeins in midseason.

Those new series will air on Wednesday and Thursday nights, where ABC has created two reality “wheels” to showcase the entries.

Web, currently mired in fifth place on Thursday in adults 18-49, hopes to reverse its fortunes on the night with “Are You Hot: The Search for America’s Sexiest People,” which bows Thursday, Feb. 13, at 9 p.m. (Daily Variety, Jan. 15).

After “Are You Hot,” from exec producer Mike Fleiss, finishes its six-episode run, ABC will turn to a six-episode version of “Extreme Makeover,” which bows in the slot April 3 (Daily Variety, Jan. 6).

“Thursday night has been flat-out unacceptable,” Braun said. “We’re committed to fixing Thursday and having a credible schedule by the end of the season.”

As for Wednesday nights, after current entries “The Bachelorette” and “Celebrity Mole: Hawaii” conclude, ABC has the beauty pageant “All American Girl,” which bows March 12 at 9 p.m. with a two-hour entry.

“All American Girl” moves to 10 p.m. the following week, with “The Bachelor” returning for a third installment March 26 at 9 p.m.

And now that a federal judge has ruled against CBS’ plea to keep ABC’s “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!” off the air, the British import (boasting C-level celebs like Robin Leach and Bruce Jenner) will air for 15 consecutive nights starting Wednesday, Feb. 19.

Care for ‘Bachelor’

Still smarting from the demise of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” Braun admits that he has no idea how long shows like “The Bachelor” will hold on to their mega-audience numbers.

“We’ve resisted every opportunity to milk those ‘Bachelor’ arcs,” he said. “We’re going to be exceedingly careful in not exploiting it. It’s impossible to know how long it’s going to go.”

Braun also said unscripted shows were not the driving force behind ABC’s slow climb out of Nielsen hell.

“The success we’ve had this year has not been on the back of reality,” he said.

Brushing off concerns that too much reality may taint ABC’s image, Braun said he believed shows like “Extreme Makeover” can co-exist with scripted fare like “The Practice.”

“These shows are like ice cream or candy,” he said — a softer version of critics’ complaints that the shows serve as addictive crack cocaine for programmers. “They’re fun to watch.”

When asked whether he’s worried that shows like Fox’s “Joe Millionaire” would dilute the power of “The Bachelor,” Braun said, “We worry about everything.”

Lacking laffers

Also at the Alpha-net’s portion of the TCA:

  • Braun admitted that ratings for “The Drew Carey Show” aren’t where he’d like, but said the net still plans to bring the show back next season, as per the net’s multiyear pact with Warner Bros. TV. “We’d like it to be doing better, but right now it’s coming back,” Braun said.

  • Execs admitted the need to add more laffers to the net’s primetime sked and conceded that the success of reality shows makes that goal more difficult. “It’s quite a conundrum, isn’t it?” Braun said, later adding that Friday night may be a place ABC looks to add comedies next fall. Braun is also keen on getting back into the series programming game on Saturdays, but that won’t happen for at least another year as ABC works through its large inventory of expensive theatricals.

  • ABC will air a 50th anniversary special in May 2003. Spec, to be exec produced by Don Mischer, tapes at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood March 16.

    ABC now marks Feb. 9, 1953, as its birthdate. That’s the day the FCC gave the network approval to merge with the United Paramount theatrical chain, led by Leonard Goldenson. But the Alphabet net had actually been broadcasting since at least 1948.

  • ABC will revisit its mid-’90s laffer hit “Home Improvement” with a one-hour clip special featuring Tim Allen.

    Allen, who starred on the sitcom as Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, will be joined by co-stars Richard Karn and Debbe Dunning. “Tim Allen Presents a User’s Guide to ‘Home Improvement,’ ” which airs later this season, will feature clips, bloopers and a Q&A session with a studio audience.

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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