ABC performs sked surgery

'Grey's' takes Thursday shift

McDreamy and Meredith are on the move.

In what will likely be the boldest move of upfront week, ABC is today expected to announce plans to move megahit “Grey’s Anatomy” to Thursday nights in the fall.

Shift immediately shakes up the established order on a night coveted by networks because of the huge ad coin movie studios spend. Over the past 15 years, only NBC and CBS have been serious long-term players on Thursday, with the Eye now the dominant force.

If “Grey’s” puts ABC in the game on Thursdays, net stands to reap tens if not hundreds of millions in added revenue over the long haul.

That ABC is moving “Grey’s Anatomy” isn’t itself a surprise, as there’s been speculation about a shift for months. The stunner is the Alphabet’s decision to go for the brass ring and move its hottest skein to Thursday.

Most industry speculation had been focused on Monday nights, particularly after the net decided to air the show’s second-season finale on the night.

Not immediately clear late Monday was whether “Grey’s” will air at 9 or 10 p.m. on Thursday. ABC was keeping a tight lid on its schedule and refused to confirm or deny any moves.

However, there was word late Monday that “Commander in Chief” — presumed to be dead — may yet have a pulse. ABC is talking to some of the show’s creative team and studio Touchstone Television about a way to keep it alive in some form.

As for “Grey’s Anatomy,” slotting the show at 10 p.m. would be the safest choice. NBC’s “ER” is fading, while there’s been buzz that “Without a Trace” could switch nights, perhaps to 9 p.m. Sundays. There’s also no chance of Fox throwing a spoiler like “American Idol” or “House” into the mix, and sheer ratings would likely be higher at 10.

Under such a scenario, ABC could air a 90-minute version of variety hit “Dancing With the Stars” from 8-9:30 p.m., a new comedy at 9:30 and “Grey’s” at 10.

Airing “Grey’s Anatomy” at 9 p.m., meanwhile, would follow the CBS model for Thursday night.

Net changed the night forever in 2001 when it moved budding frosh hit “CSI” to 9 and aired the second season of reality smash “Survivor” at 8. It then slowly grew “Without a Trace” into a hit at 10.

ABC could keep “Dancing With the Stars” at 8 p.m. and slot a hot newcomer at 10. However, that move would mean pitting “Grey’s Anatomy” against CBS’ still-strong “CSI,” perhaps reducing ratings for both.

Most radical scenario imaginable would have ABC shifting “Desperate Housewives” to Thursdays as well, essentially moving the bulk of its Sunday powerhouse lineup to a more lucrative night.

Net also could shift “Lost” to Thursdays, though such a move would mean giving the show its third timeslot in as many seasons.

Wherever “Lost” ends up, insiders indicate the network plans to answer fans’ prayers by radically revamping the show’s air pattern. Skein is expected to air in two big chunks of originals — one in the fall and one in the spring. ABC then could launch a new show in the “Lost” timeslot come January.

ABC also plans to take a different approach to Saturday nights, at least in the fall. Net’s struck a deal to air college football games on Saturdays.

As for the rest of the Alphabet sked, net has plenty to play with.

ABC has already ordered a whopping seven dramas and five comedies. New dramas include the family sudser “Brothers & Sisters,” the cop-on-the-run thriller “Day Break,” the Alaska-set romantic comedy “Men in Trees,” bank robbery entry “The Nine,” the ensemble soap “Six Degrees,” the terrorism whodunit “Traveler” and the telenovela adaptation “Ugly Betty.”

“Betty” and “The Nine” seem good bets for fall, with “Betty” a possible 8 or 9 p.m. player. “The Nine” performed particularly well with test auds and could be a contender for a slot behind “Grey’s Anatomy” if the latter skein settles in at 9 p.m.

On the comedy side, the Alphabet has in its arsenal the wedding-day snapshot “Big Day,” therapy laffer “Help Me Help You,” the thirtysomething friends entry “In Case of Emergency,” the offbeat Mick Jagger caper from Burnett/Beckerman and the babycentric “Notes From the Underbelly.”

“What About Brian” also will be back next season, as will “Dancing With the Stars” and reality shows “The Bachelor,” “Supernanny” and “Wife Swap.” “The Bachelor,” which had a successful winter relaunch this year, will be back on the net’s fall sked, perhaps on Mondays.

Also returning for the fall: newsmags “20/20” and “Primetime.”

For the first time in more than 30 years, Alphabet will have to start a fall season with scripted skeins on Mondays, since “Monday Night Football” will move to ESPN. It seems likely net will keep a femme focus on the night. “Supernanny” and “Wife Swap” were sleeper successes on Mondays in the spring, so ABC may play a pat hand and bring one or both back on the night.

While “Dancing” may keep its Thursday/Friday air pattern, there’s been buzz that ABC could try a Wednesday/Thursday sked for the skein.

As for the “Grey’s Anatomy” shift, nets rarely go for the gusto and make major game-changing moves like the “Grey’s” Thursday shuffle — but in many cases, the press frenzy that follows the shift helps ensure its success.

Take Fox’s gutsy 1990 decision to shift “The Simpsons” head on against NBC’s “The Cosby Show.” “Cosby” had been fading, and the upstart network detected an opening for younger auds. But Fox was still considered a wannabe net at that point — and media outlets couldn’t resist the David vs. Goliath battle that ensued.

Shift worked and was the first major scheduling move that turned Fox into one of the big boys.

More recently, CBS finally got into the Thursday game, after a decade as an also-ran on the night, by sensing a similar vulnerability on NBC in January 2001. Eye finally had the goods — “Survivor” and “CSI” — and in one swift move managed to alter the balance of power on the night.

“Survivor” and “CSI” didn’t immediately win the night for CBS, but it helped crumble NBC’s lock on Thursday. Eventually, the Eye pulled off a feat once thought impossible: winning Thursday night in the youthful 18-49 demo.

ABC has taken several stabs through the years at finally making some noise on Thursday. Net briefly broke through on the night at the start of this decade thanks to the “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” phenom. But that streak was short-lived.

Alphabet really hasn’t had a consistent Thursday night since the late 1970s, when shows like “Mork & Mindy” gave the net a strong showing. But in a case of making a game-changing move that didn’t work out, Alphabet shifted that Robin Williams show to Sunday, where it tanked. ABC quickly moved it back, but the damage was done. It’s those kinds of risks in moving established hits that make network execs lose sleep.

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