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ABC going to extremes

Net's sked getting makeover on six nights

Get ready for Extreme Makeover: ABC Primetime Schedule Edition.

New Alphabet primetime topper Steve McPherson will unveil a fall schedule today with eight new shows and at least an hour of changes on every night of the week (save for Saturday).

Given the dire straits in which the network finds itself at the end of this season, however, the sked offers a surprising sense of stability, with established shows anchoring most nights and a greatly improved program flow than that in last year’s patchwork quilt of a sked.

Among the key moves: “Alias” will sit out until January to allow for a no-repeat season; two new reality shows will join the web’s four existing nonfiction skeins; and the high-profile J.J. Abrams drama “Lost” will lead off a new comedy-free Wednesday.

In addition to “Lost,” ABC will launch three other dramas: the edgy family hour “Life as We Know It” (formerly “Doing It”), the “American Beauty”-esque sudser “Desperate Housewives” and a spinoff of “The Practice” dubbed “Fleet Street.”

Comedy-wise, net will go forward with Mel Gibson’s family laffer “Savages” (Daily Variety, May 14) and Rodney Carrington-led “That’s Just Rodney” (Daily Variety, May 17). As expected, total laffers will shrink to 8 from this season’s 10.

On the unscripted front, ABC is saving previously announced summer skein “The Benefactor” for fall (as a companion to “Monday Night Football”) and introducing the long-in-the-works “Wife Swap.”

Midseason entrants include Steven Bochco’s “Blind Justice” (which inherits the “NYPD Blue” timeslot in spring), medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” and the high-tech spy drama “Eyes.”

Alphabet execs wouldn’t comment, but insiders said ABC’s sked will start off Sunday with “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” remaining at 7 and 8 p.m., respectively. At 9 p.m., ABC is expected to start the fall with “Housewives,” having “Alias” returning to the slot in January for a virtually repeat-free run of 20 episodes. David E. Kelley’s “Fleet Street,” starring James Spader, will follow at 10 p.m.

“Alias” move will no doubt raise eyebrows, but it does have two major pluses: Allowing ABC to launch a new drama out of a reality hit and giving “Alias” fans a chance to watch the serialized drama without worrying about endless repeats or long stretches between original segs. (Downside: ABC will be without one of its few buzzworthy hours for a while, and it’ll be a full seven months between seasons three and four of the show.)

Monday will feature football plus “The Benefactor,” which features guy’s guy Mark Cuban (owner of the Dallas Mavericks) giving away a million of his own dollars. As recently as Monday night, ABC was airing ads touting the show’s June premiere, but net execs ultimately decided Cuban’s sports background made the show a good fit with football.

Net’s Tuesday comedy block features ABC’s three strongest laffers — “My Wife and Kids,” “George Lopez” and “According to Jim” — at 8, 8:30 and 9 p.m., respectively. “Rodney” follows at 9:30, with “Blue” at 10 (until “Justice” premieres).

“Blue”/”Justice” exec producer Bochco had been a strong advocate of the two shows sharing the same timeslot, making sure the “Blue” production sked could allow the skein to start a bit earlier than usual.

Despite the Tuesday shuffling, ABC may have strengthened its hand on the night by anchoring it with proven hit “Wife & Kids” and making sure all four comedies feature strong male leads.

On Wednesdays, it’ll be a battle of the islands as “Lost” squares off against NBC’s “Hawaii” at 8 p.m., according to insiders. “The Bachelor” will keep handing out roses at 9 p.m., while it seems ABC has finally admitted the best way to follow a hit reality show is with another reality show — in this case, “Wife Swap” at 10 p.m.

It’s curious that ABC didn’t opt to keep “Extreme Makeover” on Wednesdays, since the skein is a proven success in the 10 p.m. timeslot, even challenging NBC’s “Law & Order” among younger demos.

Instead, ever-problematic Thursday will see “Extreme Makeover” returning (this year at 8), with “Life as We Know It” — which focuses on the coming of age of three teen boys — apparently destined to face off against “CSI” and “The Apprentice” at 9. “LAWKI,” formerly “Doing It,” will broaden its focus to include more family stories, insiders said.

ABC News’ “Primetime Live” stays put at 10.

On Friday, “8 Simple Rules” is expected to lead off the night, followed by “Savages” and two returning laffers: “Hope and Faith” and “Less Than Perfect.” Despite buzz that it might get yanked, ABC is keeping ” 20/20″ Fridays at 10 p.m.

Elizabeth Vargas will join John Stossel as co-anchor of ” 20/20″ when longtime host Barbara Walters leaves the show in September. Vargas, who came to ABC from NBC News, is now a “20/20” correspondent.

ABC will stick to “The Wonderful World of Disney” on Saturday nights.

(Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.)

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