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Small frosh class makes ABC’s grade

Sked is smallest since '94

NEW YORK — Despite disappointing ratings for this season, ABC confirmed Tuesday that it will add just six new shows to its lineup next fall in a bet that stability — and a handful of well-received returning soph series — will lead to Nielsen success.

The half-dozen new skeins, split evenly between comedies and dramas, apparently represent the fewest new entertainment shows for an ABC fall sked since the 1994-95 season, when ABC also added six series.

“This will allow us the opportunity to maximize all our resources and give each individual premiere the attention it deserves,” said ABC Entertainment prexy Jamie Tarses, who presented the net’s new lineup Tuesday after an intro from ABC Entertainment chairman Stu Bloomberg.

Despite the low number of freshmen, ABC is still making significant changes to three nights of the week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday), while at least temporarily getting out of the series biz on Saturdays with the addition of a three-hour pic showcase.

As expected, ABC will also launch the new romantic drama “Once and Again” Tuesdays at 10 p.m. in the “NYPD Blue” slot. After “Blue” returns in late October, ABC plans to rest “Once” for two months and re-launch it Mondays at 10 p.m. in January, once football season ends.

Spinning on ‘Spin’

ABC’s decision to shift “Spin City” to 8 p.m. Tuesdays as a replacement for “Home Improvement,” as well as the skedding of “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place” Wednesdays at 9 p.m., elicited some concern from ad buyers.

“I don’t think (“Two Guys”) is an anchor show. The development must’ve been weak for them to put that there,” said one Madison Avenue pro, who was even more baffled by “Spin’s” move to 8 p.m.

“One of the great untold stories of this season is that most weeks, ‘Spin’ beat (NBC’s) ‘Just Shoot Me.’ So why move it?” the buyer asked, adding that when “Spin” last aired at 8 p.m., the show’s producers were forced to tone down some of the sexually charged humor.

ABC execs, however, believe “Spin” will have no problem taking on NBC’s “3rd Rock From the Sun,” while “Dharma & Greg” will soar in a 9 p.m. anchor slot.

ABC’s other major move for the season is on Thursday nights, when the net will once again seek to weaken NBC’s fading franchise, though the Alphabet web will employ a different strategy this time around. Rather than go with all-dramas or a movie-drama combo, ABC will program comedy from 8-9 p.m. (“Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and the new “Then Came You”), the youth-skewing drama “Wasteland” at 9 and return “20/20” to Thursday at 10, where it will face not only NBC’s “ER,” but also CBS’ newsmag “48 Hours.”

During Tuesday’s presentation, the net poked fun at its futile past efforts to put a chink in NBC’s Thursday armor with a parody of the “Star Wars” opening crawl that alluded to the Peacock “Empire” and “Darth Frasier.” Tarses then declared that NBC was vulnerable on Thursday and that ABC would seek to exploit that weakness.

“There is opportunity, and we’re determined to seize it,” she said.

ABC will add just one new show to its TGIF Friday sked, the laffer “Odd Man Out,” while Saturday will be devoted to a three-hour movie for at least the fourth quarter. Ad industry insiders called the latter move an attempt to pump more revenue into ABC’s coffers, since few movies are long enough to merit a three-hour block.

As expected, ABC will add the David E. Kelley drama “Snoops” Sundays at 9 p.m. The net also said that last year’s blockbuster “A Bug’s Life” will make its network debut next season on ABC’s “Wonderful World of Disney” franchise.

Also during Tuesday’s presentation, ABC News prexy David Westin confirmed that Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson will be “staying” as hosts of “Good Morning America” through next season.

In addition, insiders say ABC News is in serious talks with NBC anchor Jack Ford (“Weekend Today”) about various roles at the alphabet web. Should Ford ink with ABC he would become an instant candidate to succeed Gibson, when Gibson ultimately decides to give up the ayem shift. Ford might also work well as a correspondent or anchor for “20/20”.