NEW YORK — While other nets are preaching stability next season, ABC and the WB have turned their schedules inside out in the battle for fall supremacy.
The Alphabet web has made changes on every night except Thursdays and Saturdays, dropped its high-rated Sunday seg of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and placed “NYPD Blue” in a head-to-head Wednesday night battle with NBC’s “Law & Order” (Daily Variety, May 14).
Unveiling ABC’s fall schedule at the web’s upfront presentation in New York on Tuesday, Alphabet execs said they were feeling bullish.
“We’re taking some chances,” ABC Entertainment Television Group co-chair Stu Bloomberg admitted. “But it’s because we really feel that we have the goods. This is the new ABC. … We feel we’ll be really competitive.”
The presentation opened with clips from “Alias,” the Alphabet net’s new action-packed Sunday night drama from “Felicity” creator J.J. Abrams.
As he did at the net’s pre-upfront, Jason Alexander wowed media buyers by taking on the role of Bob Patterson, the motivational speaker he’ll play in “Bob Patterson,” which will air Tuesdays at 9 p.m.
The web’s biggest gamble may be Wednesday nights, where ABC will first air the relocated “20/20” at 10 p.m. before debuting “NYPD Blue” (long a Tuesday staple) in November.
Media buyers gave “Law and Order” the competitive edge, since it will benefit from a “West Wing” lead-in.
“That’s going to be a showdown, especially since ‘NYPD Blue’ hasn’t been on in the fall the past couple of years,” said Stacey Lynn Koerner, VP, broadcast research, TN Media.
Meanwhile, Steven Bochco’s latest drama “Philly,” starring “NYPD Blue” alum Kim Delaney as a defense attorney, will debut in “NYPD Blue”‘s traditional Tuesday at 10 p.m. time slot.
In order to keep “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” fresh, ABC said the Thursday airing will feature special editions such as classic TV stars, rock-and-roll stars, college students, families and couples.
“Having ‘Millionaire’ air twice a week and having Thursday branded will be terrific for the show,” said ABC Entertainment co-chairman Lloyd Braun.
Buyers’ thumbs up
Media buyers applauded the “Millionaire” trim.
” ‘Millionaire’ going down to two nights is a smart move,” said Brad Adgate, senior VP, research, Horizon Media. “It was getting older and there was ratings erosion.”
Meanwhile, ABC Television Network prexy Alex Wallau defended the net’s decision to temporarily bump Barbara Walters’ “20/20” in order to make room for “Once and Again.”
Wallau said the move “represents no diminution of our commitment to ABC’s news division. It is our crown jewel and has been for years.”
After presenting clips of ABC News highlights, Bloomberg said thanked Walters and ABC News prexy David Westin “for allowing us to use their time period for a while.”
“20/20” returns in December, after the reality skein “The Mole” completes its run. ABC execs said they may slide the net’s 9 p.m. drama “Thieves” to 8 p.m. and “Once and Again” down to 9 p.m. in order to make room for the newsmag’s return at 10 p.m.
Also, ABC said it would air series, rather than a movie, when “Monday Night Football” completes its run. Reality skein “The Runner” is expected to bow Mondays at 9 p.m. in January, followed by the Sally Field drama “The Court.”
Separately, the WB announced a change-heavy schedule Tuesday, including switches on every night but Wednesday.
With all that change, the WB emphasized its strategy to anchor each night with a proven entity, including “7th Heaven,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Popstars” and “Sabrina: The Teenage Witch.”
Frog will go into fall with reality series for the first time. In addition to the “Temptation Island”-like “Elimidate Deluxe,” next fall the WB will air the “Road Rules”-style “Lost in the USA” and “No Boundaries,” which has been described as a cross between “Survivor” and “Eco-Challenge.” In addition, “Popstars 2” will air Thursdays at 8 p.m.
Buyers thought the move to reality was a smart one.
“MTV has proven there is an audience for reality shows among teens and adults,” Adgate said. “It’s clearly an effort on the WB’s part to bring in more male viewers.”
Synergy on display
The upfront was the first for the weblet since the merger of its parent company, Time Warner, with AOL. WB president-CEO Jed Petrick pointed to “Popstars” as an example of how AOL Time Warner synergy can help promote a show.
This also marked the net’s first upfront in years without “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” since it has jumped to UPN. “Buffy” spinoff “Angel” remains on the sked. WB entertainment co-prexy Susanne Daniels said, ” ‘Buffy’ will always be a show close to our hearts, but we saw the teen audience begin to erode. We’re confident in our ability to refresh our schedule.”
Media buyers were optimistic about the net’s family-friendly Friday night sked, which includes new comedies “Maybe I’m Adopted,” “Deep in the Heart” and “Raising Dad.”
“Friday night is well thought-out and the shows they picked are the right formula for them. It’s going to be a great destination for kids, families and pre-teens,” Koerner said.
Michael Schneider contributed to this story.