ABC Family takes on original pix

Channel programs 'fun' fare

This article was corrected 8:30 p.m.

NEW YORK — ABC Family’s prescription for seriously run-down ratings is heavy doses of original programming, led by a group of fresh reality series and eight made-for-cable movies.

“Our goal is to create lots of fun, light-hearted entertainment,” Angela Shapiro, ABC Family Channel prexy, said at an upfront press briefing Monday. “You won’t see any heavy dramas or documentaries on ABC Family.”

Shapiro said her outlay for original programming in the 2002-03 season will end up at more than the budget for the past two seasons combined. She declined to go any further, but Kagan World Media said the network will spend $151 million on both original and acquired programming in 2003, which is 10% higher than last year’s total, with another double-digit increase in 2004, to about $166 million.

Leading the charge are original movies to be produced by, among other suppliers, Cosmic Entertainment (the outfit run by Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell and Kate Hudson) and by companies owned by Courtney Cox, Britney Spears and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson. These celebrities will serve as exec producers, not performers, although some may do walk-ons in their movies.

Linda Mancuso, senior VP and head of programming for ABC Family, said the network has commissioned scripts for six potential half-hour comedies. “We’ll pick the best of the six to go to production as quickly as possible,” Mancuso said.

The two comedies mentioned specifically were:

“1001 Dates,” a reality-infused project from Greenblatt-Janollari and Josh Goldstein, dealing with a fictitious dating service that sends “real people out on real dates.”

“TwentyNothings,” about a group of men and women interacting with each other in Michigan. ABC Family calls the script, written by Molly Jong-Fast and Flint Wainess, an updated version of “Friends.”

All of the movies will be romantic comedies, starting with “This Time Around,” starring Carly Pope, Sara Rue and Brian A. Green, which will run in June.

Reality series headed for the ABC Family lineup include a new version of 1980s syndie hit “Dance Fever”; “Perfect Match: New York,” from Michael Davies Prods., which asks a single person to put his/her love life into the hands of a best friend, who chooses potential mates; “Tying the Knot,” a six-episode series that follows Melissa Joan Hart (“Sabrina, the Teenage Witch”) in the weeks leading up to her wedding in Italy; “The Brendan Leonard Show,” starring a 19-year-old who hosts his own public-access show in Chicago; and “Switched,” in which two teens trade lives over a four-day period.

Theatrical movies coming to ABC Family include two TV premieres: “Summer Catch,” with Freddie Prinze, and “A Guy Thing,” with Selma Blair. Other titles, which ABC Family will get after they run elsewhere in the network window, include the two “Harry Potter” movies, “About a Boy,” “Bring It On” and “Picture Perfect.”

For all of ABC Family’s emphasis on originals, fully 78% of the network’s primetime schedule consists of movies, the bulk of them theatrical.