ABC vets get marketing push

Small fall slate enables focus on established shows

Almost everything old is new again at ABC, which is taking a mostly status-quo approach to the fall season.

Alphabet net launched last year with several promising new players: “Pushing Daisies,” “Private Practice” and “Samantha Who?” among other new shows. Then came the strike — and that momentum was lost.

“Samantha” managed to come back late last season, but ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson made the strategic decision to hold back on the other newcomers until this year.

As a result, this fall’s sked looks a lot like last fall’s lineup, particularly on Wednesday night. It also means only two new series are on tap as the season launches: drama “Life on Mars” and reality skein “Opportunity Knocks.”

“We have the advantage going in that we felt we really had a dominant fall and a real strong core schedule, so we didn’t need that much new programming,” McPherson says. “Our Wednesday night was, to us, an unbelievable success story, and it was cut short, so we’re excited to get back with ‘Daisies’ and ‘Private Practice’ and ‘Dirty Sexy Money.’ And we do think there’s a real upside there.”

Meanwhile, with just two new series, ABC can spend more marketing dollars on returning series. And the net also plans to strategically target its promo money on shows that will benefit the most.

“We’ll make Sunday and ‘Desperate Housewives’ a priority for fall — that wouldn’t be the case if we had a lot of new shows,” McPherson says. “‘Opportunity Knocks’ will get a little more than ‘Life on Mars,’ which has a more protected slot.”

SPOTLIGHT: LIFE ON MARS

It’s take two for “Life on Mars,” which underwent a massive make- over this spring, led by the departure of David E. Kelley as showrunner.

New exec producers Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec (along with Scott Rosenberg) have reimagined the show, keeping just one cast member from Kelley’s version — star Jason O’Mara — and bringing the show closer to the original U.K. series from which “Mars” has been adapted.

Among the changes: “The Sopranos” star Michael Imperioli has been added to the cast, while production has relocated from Los Angeles to New York.

“We’re trying to recapture the spirit of the British version,” Appelbaum says.

The basic conceit remains the same: A cop is hit by a car and wakes up in 1973 — where the rules are quite different.

“You have this great concept of a cop from 2008 who is very attuned to that kind of crime-solving — DNA evidence and all sort of technology,” Applebaum says, “and here he is thrust into a world where there’s a whole other kind of ethos to everything. Those stories will be endless for us. It will be a whole new way of telling cop stories.”

NEW FOR 2008-2009

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

It’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” meets “Newlywed Game” meets “Fun House.” In “Opportunity Knocks,” host JD Roth and exec producer Ashton Kutcher surprise a family by dumping a gameshow on their front door. As neighbors and friends cheer on, the family is asked trivia questions about their lives.

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