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ABC may flip ‘Ellen’ ‘Grace’

ABC, which shook up its schedule last summer by flopping “Home Improvement” and “Roseanne,” is said to be mulling another post-lineup-setting switch involving “Ellen” and “Grace Under Fire.”

Sources said the network is considering a similar time-period flop of those two Wednesday comedies, moving “Grace” – the 2-year-old Carsey-Werner series – to 8 p.m. and sliding “Ellen” into “Grace’s” current 9 p.m. slot. It’s unclear whether such a move would affect the 8:30 and 9:30 shows – new entries “The Drew Carey Show” and “Wilde Again,” respectively – but it seems unlikely.

ABC had no comment regarding the proposed shift, with insiders declining to rule out the possibility of such a move but also stressing that it was by no means a done deal.

As with the “Home Improvement” – “Roseanne” change, designed to blunt the impact of NBC’s “Frasier” Tuesday, ABC is pondering the change in response to competitive matchups on the other networks.

“Grace,” starring former standup Brett Butler, is perceived to be a stronger show than the Ellen DeGeneres series. It probably would start the night off with bigger numbers and provide more formidable competition against CBS’ new Warner Bros. TV sitcom “Bless This House,” a blue-collar comedy starring Andrew Clay and Cathy Moriarty.

With CBS and Fox Broadcasting scheduling dramas at 9 p.m. Wednesdays and “Dateline NBC” returning, “Ellen” also would have the advantage of being the only sitcom (excluding the WB Network) in its timeslot. Some observers also feel the show may be more compatible with “Wilde Again,” the Brillstein-Grey Communications sitcom starring Tea Leoni, who’s seen as a potential breakout star.

Such a move probably would meet considerable resistance from Carsey-Werner, since HUT (homes using TV) levels are lower at 8 p.m., meaning “Grace” likely would draw a lower rating there than in the 9 o’clock hour. The same phenomenon was borne out this year with “Roseanne’s” shift into a lead-off slot. Still, ABC has demonstrated its willingness to tinker with its lineup in the past, despite such objections.

Separately, the network confirmed a six-episode midseason order on “Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush,” a Brillstein- Grey variety/gameshow – adapted from a popular British series – in which contestants vie for exotic vacations, leaving directly from the studio.

David Waterman will host the U.S. version, which marks BGC’s third pickup from ABC for the coming season, joining the comedies “Somewhere in America” and “Wilde Again.” The company, a joint venture with Capital Cities/ABC, also produces the returning NBC sitcom “NewsRadio.”

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