Network unveils stable slate

ABC will launch its 2008-09 campaign with the most stable schedule of any network in years.

Alphabet web on Tuesday revealed a lineup that looks a lot like its fall 2007 sked – and that’s by design.

Just two new series made it on the sked: A revised U.S. adaptation of hit BBC thriller “Life on Mars,” and reality skein “Opportunity Knocks” from Ashton Kutcher’s shingle.

Meeting with reporters Tuesday morning, Stephen McPherson, ABC Entertainment prexy, revealed that “Boston Legal,” which narrowly scored a pickup, would end its run after a final, 13-episode season.

“Legal” returns in part because Kelley – who owned the U.S. rights to “Mars” – agreed to let the frosh show continue without his involvement. The prolific scribe is now set to pen most of “Legal’s” remaining episodes, McPherson said.

Meanwhile, “Mars” will indeed go through some changes – including a few cast shuffles. One large conceptual piece of the show will also change under new exec producers Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg, McPherson said.

Launching in the plum post-“Grey’s Anatomy” slot on Thursday, the twisty time-travel storyline on “Mars” seems even more natural given the show it will temporarily replace: The twisty time-travel adventures of “Lost,” which is back in midseason (time slot still to be determined).

The arrival of “Mars” at 10 p.m. is the only tweak made to Thursday. Otherwise, ABC’s Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday skeds look the same. Friday sees a shuffle from 8-10 p.m. with the relocation of durable reality skeins “Wife Swap” and “Supernanny.”

Also new to ABC, as expected, is “Scrubs,” the ABC Studios comedy that just finished up its eight-year run on NBC. Ensembleer, which has been picked up for 18 episodes, will air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. in the winter, when the “Dancing With the Stars” results show goes on hiatus.

ABC repped a better home for “Scrubs,” McPherson said, “given that their (old) network rarely promoted them at all,” he said. “It’s a great addition for us and helps as we expand our comedy brand.”

McPherson said “Scrubs” exec producer Bill Lawrence has already pitched several plot points, including a new chief of medicine character. The entire cast will be back.

“Scrubs” will be paired with animated half-hour “The Goode Family,” from Mike Judge, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky.

Also already ordered for midseason: The untitled Tyra Banks/Ashton Kutcher pageant-themed reality show, which will air Mondays at 8 during the “Dancing With the Stars” break. “According to Jim” and ABC News’ “Primetime: What Would You Do?” are on the bench as well.

Beyond that, ABC still has 17 pilots that remain in contention for midseason. McPherson said the Alphabet will probably pick up additional shows in two cycles: Comedies may be ordered by August, with dramas picked up in September. That would allow for some additional half-hours to be in the mix and ready to go as soon as November, if needed.

During ABC’s hourlong presentation, McPherson showed teasers from three projects in development, including a clip of producers Max Mutchnick and David Kohan riffing on their buddy comedy and early drawings from “Goode Family.” McPherson also revealed that the net is adapting the MSN online serial “In the Motherhood,” which stars Leah Remini, Jenny McCarthy and Chelsea Handler as harried moms and is sponsored by Suave and Sprint.

Shows not returning include “Oprah’s Big Give,” which McPherson said was “not something (Oprah Winfrey) wanted to continue.”

Also not returning: “Big Shots,” “Carpoolers,” “Cashmere Mafia,” “Cavemen,” “Men In Trees,” “Miss/Guided,” “Notes from the Underbelly,” “October Road” and “Women’s Murder Club.”

Alphabet went into the upfronts with most of its major freshman entries renewed for next year. What’s more, most of the Alphabet net’s pilots have yet to be shot – and McPherson made it clear that he wouldn’t schedule any new shows without first seeing some tape.

“I’m a huge believer in the R&D of this business,” McPherson said during the morning news conference. “The pilot process is the smartest possible investment you can make in your future.”

ABC’s decision to stick with a mostly stable sked is also recognition that the net was performing well in the fall – until the writers strike, and of course “American Idol,” halted that momentum.

“We were winning until the strike,” McPherson said. “Then `Idol’ comes on… there were a few openings we wanted to improve upon.”

McPherson said ABC will launch its fall schedule during the traditional premiere week, which this year starts Sept. 22. Net isn’t planning any stunts opposite the Summer Olympics, he said.

As for the possibility that actors might stage a strike this summer, McPherson said the network is already putting together contingency plans. Some shows have already been banking episodes in the event of another work stoppage.

Here’s a look at ABC’s fall schedule:

ABC Primetime ScheduleABC primetime schedule for 2008-2009
  8:00 8:30 9:00 9:30 10:00
Mon. Dancing with the Stars / untitled Tyra Banks, Ashton Kutcher reality show (midseason) Samantha Who? Boston Legal / The Bachelor
Tue. Opportunity Knocks Dancing with the Stars (results show)/ Scrubs and The Goode Family (midseason) Eli Stone
Wed. Pushing Daisies Private Practice Dirty Sexy Money
Thur. Ugly Betty Grey’s Anatomy Life on Mars
Fri. Wife Swap Supernanny 20/20
Sat. Saturday Night College Football
Sun. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition Desperate Housewives Brothers & Sisters
Bold denotes new show

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