×

ABC this week pletes an ambitious ploy to revive “Loving,” a 12-year-old soap on the verge of cancellation, by relaunching the series with a new name, new characters and a new Gotham setting.

Created by daytime doyenne Agnes Nixon, “Loving” has consistently ranked dead last among 10 soaps now airing. Last season, it earned a 2.4 rating and a 9 share in total households, with a 1.7/12 among the key 18-to-49 women demographic, representing a paltry 1.1 million viewers in that group. (In contrast, the top-rated soap, CBS’ “Young and the Restless,” attracts nearly three times as many of those viewers).

“As far as we were concerned, there was nowhere to go but up,” says Pat Fili-Krushel, president of ABC Daytime. But instead of simply replacing the show with one of several it was developing, ABC decided to try to salvage “Loving” in a bid to retain its small but loyal audience while reaching for new viewers.

Capping a months-long transition, “Loving” today becomes “The City,” a decidedly different show aiming for a younger crowd with hipper music, faster-paced editing, Manhattan location shooting and, for a dose of requisite daytime bitchiness, Morgan Fairchild, along with several other new characters.

Twelve “Loving” actors – six of whom were recently introduced – have been shipped from fictional Corinth, Pa., to real-life SoHo. Six more were murdered, in typically evil fashion, by a serial killer revealed to be another longtime character, who then committed suicide.

“The City” will use the same Manhattan studio as “Loving,” with new sets and new exterior shoots matched to an actual SoHo loft building, where in a “Melrose Place”-style gambit, most of its characters will reside.

Will this unprecedented gambit work? Fili-Krushel says it will take at least 18 months to find out, but she’s already encouraged by additional clearances in six markets – including Denver and New Orleans – that move coverage of “The City” from 79% to 81.5%. With the murder-and-mayhem plotline in the works since July, season-to-date ratings also are up 18% among women, and 13% overall.

Meanwhile, the international distributor Fremantle will unveil the “The City” to potential foreign buyers at the London Program Market which starts Nov. 13. Fremantle has distributed “Loving” abroad since it began on ABC in 1983.