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ABC lines up artillery for midseason

Net smartly schedules, markets promising newbies

HOLLYWOOD — The February sweep is over, but for ABC a new season has already begun.

Buoyed by success that even the most loyal Mouseketeer couldn’t have predicted, ABC didn’t need any emergency fixes in the fall and was still in no hurry to shake up its sked in January.

As a result, the net has plenty of fresh product to unleash in the normally fallow period between sweeps in February and May. And much like it effectively launched unique projects “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” last fall, ABC has smartly scheduled and marketed its promising newbies.

Each new program will inhabit a timeslot where the net can improve, so the upside is considerable. And if one or two of these shows clicks, ABC will be in great position to catch CBS for second-place in adults 18-49.

Here’s a look at ABC’s upcoming new shows:

“Blind Justice” (March 8): First up is the latest cop drama from Stephen Bochco, which bows one week following the series finale of his “NYPD Blue” and will try to put a dent in NBC’s strong “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

“Blue” had skewed old and averaged a modest 3.3 rating in adults 18-49 this season, so ABC is hopeful that “Blind” can pull a 4 rating or better.

“Jake in Progress” (March 13): John Stamos alone guarantees that this comedy gets a boffo premiere rating, but its premise and execution is strong enough to suggest it has a chance to make it — single-camera or not.

After bowing in the Sunday “Desperate Housewives” timeslot, “Jake” moves to its regular Thursday-at-8 home, where it will air back-to-back episodes — initially facing basketball (not “Survivor”) on CBS.

Night makes sense because ABC is locked into domestic laffers on Tuesday and Friday, and is looking for a home for smarter, more sophisticated comedy. And why not Thursday at 8, where NBC’s blah “Joey” is nowhere near as formidable there as “Friends.”

Also, working from a woeful adults 18-49 average of 1.7 in the hour this season, the risk is minimal for ABC.

“Little House on the Prairie” (March 26): A five-week limited-run series, this version based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic books is primed to present ABC with nice time-period growth.

Movies have been averaging a 1.6 rating in Saturday’s 8 o’clock hour, so anything in the mid-2 range would be a big lift. “Prairie” would also make an ideal lead-in for the net’s “Wonderful World of Disney” movies — providing there are some two-hour pics out there.

“Grey’s Anatomy” (March 27): Time seems right for a young, ensemble hospital drama, and this hour has a great look and cast. Airing behind “Desperate Housewives” (and opposite NBC’s tame “Crossing Jordan”), this is perhaps the net’s best shot at a long-term player.

Look for it to perform similarly or slightly better than “Boston Legal,” which did OK but lost too much of “DH’s” 18-34 audience. Women 18-34 will flock to this one.

“Eyes” (March 30): The Wednesday-at-10 network competish is pretty dreary (“Law & Order” and “CSI: NY”), and this stylish, suspenseful look at high-tech detective work is an ideal way for ABC to cap a night that also features “Lost” and “Alias.”

The pilot is excellent, but could be hard to live up to. Still, anything in the mid-4 range might be enough to challenge for the slot lead.

Bottom line: There’s no reason to think that ABC, which came into March roaring like a lion, can’t exit it the same way.

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