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Nets scare up changes in divergent ways

It's easy at ABC while Frog aims to find way

NEW YORK — Both ABC and the WB showcased intriguing dramatic series constructed on a “Let’s scare the hell out of you” foundation — a loose revival of “The Night Stalker” and “Supernatural,” respectively — but similarities between their “upfront” presentations Tuesday pretty much ended there.

Relaxed but endeavoring not to seem cocky, ABC execs emphasized their programs, which, while looking hit-or-miss as most development will, appeared to flow from a cohesive template designed to build upon the net’s momentum with first-year hits “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

The network also brilliantly leveraged those assets throughout its sharply paced production, including a show-stopping, Broadway-style musical number by a tuxedo-clad “Housewives” creator Marc Cherry that brought even some media buyers and jaded journalists to their feet. (Word of caution to the former: Standing ovations are ill-advised if you want to play coy when negotiating ad buys.)

ABC Entertainment prexy Stephen McPherson pushed the right buttons while seeking to position the network-that-couldn’t-program-and-promote-straight as a still-hungry gang that won’t become complacent. Of course, success breeds its own headaches, but wrangling high-strung talent is surely preferable to the Disney-owned outfit’s tumultuous recent past.

As for the WB, chairman Garth Ancier sounded a welcome chord when he introduced its morning session by saying, “When the shows are great, you let the clips speak for themselves.” The problem was that the next two hours (longer than ABC’s event, which is chutzpah for a 13-hour-a-week broadcaster) didn’t fulfill that pledge.

Although a few of the netlet’s comedies exhibited promise, its adipose showcase was filled with awkward actor blather and unappealing cut-downs for every new drama except “Supernatural.”

In a broader sense, the WB appears at a programming crossroads strategically, with a disconnect between its comedy and drama profiles and less clarity of purpose in its demographic targeting, all in a schedule that relocates “Smallville” for the third time in its five seasons.

Yep, that looks like a job for Superman.

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