ABC plays the drama game

Alphabet web plans to cut 'Millionaire'

NEW YORK — Who wants to be a half- “Millionaire”?

Boosted by a strong development slate, ABC appears ready to dramatically reduce its dependency on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” cutting back from four weekly installments of the Regis Philbin-hosted quizzer to just two next fall, network insiders said late Sunday.

In addition, there’s a strong chance that ABC will preempt Barbara Walters’ “20/20” for a good chunk of the fall in order to squeeze in more new dramas, renew critically praised hour “Once and Again” and bring back “NYPD Blue” sooner. What’s more, much-hyped reality skein “The Runner” is now expected to air midseason rather than in September, as previously announced.

As for “Blue,” cop drama has been airing on a January-May basis the past two seasons. But Alphabet execs are talking to “Blue” exec producer Steven Bochco about ramping up production on the show earlier than in recent seasons so that the series could return in time for November sweeps — but not in its traditional 10 p.m. Tuesday slot.

Plans now call for ABC to launch Bochco’s new Kim Delaney legal drama “Philly” at 10 p.m. Tuesdays. “Blue” would then air at 10 p.m. Wednesdays starting in early November. “Once & Again” would move to 10 p.m. Fridays as part of a new lineup featuring reality gameshow “The Mole” and the new drama “Thieves.”

Airing in September and October, “20/20” would be off the Alphabet sked for most of November and December (save for a sweeps spec). Series would then return to the sked in a Friday slot, most likely just before Christmas, when “The Mole” wraps up its limited run, ABC News insiders said.

Dramas, comedies

An ABC spokesman vigorously declined to comment on the net’s scheduling plans, set to be announced to advertisers Tuesday at the New Amsterdam Theater. But network and industry insiders said ABC will bow three new dramas and two new comedies, while renewing all three of its spring comedies.

New laffers include a Jim Belushi-led family vehicle and the Jason Alexander starrer “Bob Patterson.” In addition to “Thieves” and “Philly,” ABC has the spy caper hour “Alias.”

While the ABC sked won’t be final until Bochco gives the web an answer on “Blue,” here’s what ABC is expected to unveil Tuesday:

  • Sunday bookends “The Wonderful World of Disney” and “The Practice” stay put at 7 and 10 p.m. At 9 p.m., net will launch “Alias,” the hourlong drama from J.J. Abrams known inside ABC as “La Femme Felicity.”

  • “Millionaire” moves to Monday at 8, squaring off with NBC’s “The Weakest Link” on the East Coast. “Monday Night Football” follows.

  • “Dharma & Greg” slides to 8 p.m. Tuesday, an expected move since ABC’s new deal for the show calls for a higher license fee if the show airs at 9 p.m. or later. “What About Joan” returns for a second season at 8:30 p.m., with Alexander as motivational speaker “Bob Patterson” at 9 p.m. “The Job” at 9:30 p.m. leads into “Philly.”

  • Midseason success “My Wife and Kids” leads off Wednesday, followed by the new Belushi laffer, “The Drew Carey Show” and “Spin City.” “Blue” is likely for 10 p.m., contingent on production demands; “20/20” airs here otherwise.

  • Thursday remains the same, with “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” “Millionaire” and “Primetime Live.” A sketch comedy show starring Wayne Brady will get a summer run; if it pops, look for it at 8:30 p.m.

  • Friday’s sked has “The Mole” leading into spy drama “Thieves,” starring John Stamos, followed by “Once & Again.”

  • ABC will continue airing movies on Saturdays.

ABC has ordered the Sally Field-led legal drama “The Court” for midseason. Field is expected to be in New York when ABC announces its sked.

As for “The Runner,” insiders at the net said that with Hollywood’s labor situation more stable, the net can now afford to spend more time developing the series.

While ABC is bringing back its three midseason laffers, its four fall 2000 series — “Geena,” “Gideon’s Crossing,” “Madigan Men” and “The Trouble With Normal” — are not expected to return. Also missing: “Two Guys and a Girl” and “Norm.” It’s unclear if 20th Century Fox TV will shop “Two Guys” elsewhere.

(Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)

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