Still smarting from their ongoing ratings collapse, ABC execs have aimed for modest expectations next season.
The network, after all, is virtually overhauling its entire lineup — save Sunday night — in an attempt to rebrand itself as “the broadest of broadcasters.”
“I think we’re to blame in large part for putting unrealistic expectations on these shows in the past,” ABC Entertainment Television Group chairman Lloyd Braun said.
Unveiling their sked Tuesday, Braun and ABC Entertainment prexy Susan Lyne said they had one core goal next season: Stop the bleeding.
“Everyone realizes it’s going to take time,” Lyne said. “No one is expecting us to jump into first place next year.” (To which Braun replied, only half-kidding, “Well, there is one person who expects us to, who shall remain nameless” — referring, of course, to Disney honcho Michael Eisner.)
Without a dominant night to promote its entire schedule, unlike NBC and CBS, Braun said the major thrust of ABC’s fall primetime campaign will instead revolve around the 8 to 9 p.m. hour Monday through Friday.
Starting this summer, the Alphabet will promote the start of primetime as the “ABC Happy Hour.”
“We felt there was a great opportunity for us to claim ownership to that hour of programming each weeknight,” Braun said. “It’s a horizontal approach to try to bring people in at 8 each night of the week. Our shows between 8 and 9 all fit that ‘Happy Hour’ profile.”
Net, which was criticized by producers a few years ago when it focused on its “TV is good” campaign, said it would continue to promote each show individually, but all under that “Happy Hour” banner.
Braun and Lyne also pledged to practice more patience this season, particularly in difficult timeslots. That includes Tuesdays at 9 p.m., where the Alphabet web has scheduled two new skeins (“Life With Bonnie” and “Less Than Perfect”) against tough competition.
“None of us have an expectation or illusion that those shows will explode out of the gate and set the world on fire,” Braun said. “If we see the quality found in the pilot, we’ll let them stay there. They will find an audience over time.”
Lyne said the net also hopes to tap into a younger audience Thursdays at 8 p.m. with the series version of “Dinotopia.”
“There is still an audience out there on Thursday night,” she said. “The audience is elastic.”
Other new skeins include the Tuesday laffer “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” the Wednesday medical drama “Meds,” the Thursday reality/drama hybrid “Push, Nevada,” and the Friday night drama “That Was Then.”
” ‘That Was Then’ was my favorite pilot of the season,” Lyne said. “I love this show. We put it in a timeslot we hope is relatively protected so we can grow this show.”
All ABC’s new skeins are produced by Touchstone TV, save Hallmark Entertainment’s “Dinotopia.”
As for midseason, ABC has scheduled Dick Wolf’s new take on “Dragnet” for Mondays at 9 p.m. post-“Monday Night Football,” while the Touchstone/Spyglass drama “Miracles,” from exec producers Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber and Richard Hatem, airs at 10 p.m.
Other midseason entries include the Touchstone/NBC Studios comedy “My Second Chance” and the action drama “Veritas.”
“We’ll be picking more shows up for midseason,” Lyne said. “We’re between a rock and a hard place. There are a lot of hours we have to fill, but there are only so many shows you can launch in the fall.”
Gone from the net are skeins including “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (which, as expected, will return as a series of multinight events), “Dharma & Greg,” “What About Joan,” “Bob Patterson,” “Spin City,” “Philly,” “The Job,” “The Mole” (which still has a summer run ahead), “Thieves,” “Once and Again,” “Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central),” “The Chair” and “The Court.”
Maher off the hook
Meanwhile, ABC execs made their first public comments regarding the decision to cancel the “Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher” latenight franchise.
Braun said the show was “not doomed” following Maher’s post-Sept. 11 comments regarding the terrorist attack’s suicidal pilots, which caused some sponsors to pull their ads.
“It’s been a terrific show for us, and Bill Maher has been tireless in his efforts with that show,” Braun said. “He’s been as terrific a partner as we’d hoped to have.”
Still, the decision to replace Maher with a new project from “The Man Show’s” Jimmy Kimmel represents a change in direction at the web.
“We feel he’s a very unique talent, very fresh, and really will allow us to grow over time a real significant presence in latenight,” Braun said.