First-run shows take break during primetime bloc

The network that once publicly thanked a higher power for Fridays almost seems to be dreading the end of the work week now.

Having joined other nets in retreating from firstrun scripted programming on Saturday nights like the Chicago Bears from a first down, ABC has gone a step further by abandoning first-run fiction during the bloc formerly known as TGIF.

In this sweeps month of February, the Alphabet web has filled its Friday schedule with a combination of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Brothers and Sisters” encores, newsmag “20/20″ and never-say-die “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” ABC hasn’t aired an original scripted program in Friday prime time since Nov. 10, when “Men in Trees” made its final foray before planting itself on Thursdays.

ABC now goes 70 hours without first-run scripted fare, from the end of “Trees” Thursday to the 9 p.m. start of “Desperate Housewives” on Sunday.

The latter, of course, serves as a reminder that scripted programming is nominally a strength for ABC. With “Desperate,” “Grey’s,” “Brothers” and “Ugly Betty,” ABC has four hour-long shows in the weekly top-20.

ABC isn’t lacking for options, either. The network has such shows in reserve as yet-to-debut “October Road” and “Traveler” and benched-but-not-buried series “Six Degrees” and “The Nine.” And then there are “The Knights of Prosperity” and “In Case of Emergency,” either of whom might benefit from a change of timeslot scenery.

In contrast, CBS and NBC have hung on to first-run scripted shows on Fridays (the exception being NBC’s “1 vs. 100″ at 8 p.m.) Fox challenges with “Nanny 911″ and “Trading Spouses,” while the CW offers “WWE Friday Night Smackdown.”

So it’s not as if ABC’s strategy lacks logic. In offering the evening’s only news program, preceded by second-chance viewings of its most popular shows, the network wraps up the week with middling ratings but at a bargain cost.

With the economics of television continuing to grind against big investments in scripted fare, one can’t help wondering if ABC’s fanfare-free Friday signals that a wider broadcast network retreat could come. Neither NBC nor CBS is exactly dominating Fridays with first-run shows, and the Eye and Peacock webs do have other spots on their schedule to shore up. In the slow-moving game of follow-the-leader that networks often play, execs figure to pay attention to ABC’s strategy.

Of course, with the networks presenting an overload of big-draw scripted shows on Thursdays, many viewers are still saying TGIF – as in, thank God it’s Friday so we can catch up on what we recorded the night before.

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