ABC refits with wit

Net adds 4 laffers, shuffles 66% of sked

This article was updated at 8:57 p.m.

NEW YORK — ABC will shuffle a whopping two-thirds of its schedule next fall, as the network attempts to jumpstart its fading ratings recovery.

That will keep Alphabet net marketing execs busy come September, as eight existing series move to new timeslots and eight new series (four comedies, three dramas and one newsmagazine) make their premiere.

It’s a gamble, but network execs said the moves were necessary to expand to a 10-comedy schedule (up from six) — the most of any network and ABC’s biggest comedy count in four years.

“We decided to double down on comedy,” said ABC Television Entertainment chairman Lloyd Braun, speaking to reporters Tuesday alongside entertainment prexy Susan Lyne. “We feel that we’ve found our comedic voice.”

Braun said the net might even move to a 12-comedy lineup come midseason, if the programming delivered the goods — but that’s a tall order, given the traditional low success rate of most new primetime series.

Optimistic

Still, the net said it was bullish on its new laffers, which include “I’m With Her,” “It’s All Relative,” “Back to Kansas” and “Hope & Faith.”

“I think we have the comedies, and if the shows are good, we’re committed to rebuilding the net as quickly as we can,” he said.

Meanwhile, Braun and Lyne said the primetime upheaval was necessary to shore up the net’s Sunday-night lineup, which now will consist of three dramas plus “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

By shifting Sunday staple “The Wonderful World of Disney” to Saturdays, ABC will flow a new drama (“10-8”) into “Alias.”

‘Sisco,’ ‘Threat’ on tap

Besides “10-8,” new dramas include “Karen Sisco” and “Threat Matrix.”

Stationed Thursday at 8 p.m., “Threat Matrix’s” slot is ABC’s riskiest move, Braun said.

Unveiling the schedule to advertisers at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, ABC’s presentation Tuesday was generally flat, though it moved at a quicker pace than in years past.

Aud politely clapped as the net brought out big guns including “Kingdom Hospital’s” Stephen King, “NYPD Blue’s” Steven Bochco and “L.A. Dragnet’s” Dick Wolf.

“Jimmy Kimmel Live” host Jimmy Kimmel got the biggest laughs — and more than rival Jay Leno did at NBC’s presentation the previous day.

While Disney-owned Touchstone is producing many of ABC’s new shows, the net isn’t doing the studio many favors in terms of timeslots– despite frequent harping by critics that nets give their best slots to inhouse product.

But this year, U’s “Karen Sisco” got the coveted post-“Bachelor” slot on Wednesdays, while WBTV’s “I’m With Her” is comfortably situated between “8 Simple Rules” and “According to Jim.”

Touchstone skeins were given far tougher assignments. “Hope & Faith,” for example, has been asked to anchor Fridays at 9 p.m.; “Threat Matrix” is in a Thursday death slot; and “Alias” remains stuck on Sundays.

ABC will get even more aggressive in midseason, where “Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital” is tentatively slated for the 9 p.m. Thursday slot. Of course, that’s months away, so strategies could change by then.

As for the return of “TGIF,” Braun and Lyne cautioned the franchise wouldn’t emulate the teenybopper strategy (think “Boy Meets World” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) with which it’s probably most identified.

‘Dragnet’ on Saturdays

Friday isn’t the only night ABC is looking to re-establish with scripted fare, as it also takes a stab on Saturday nights by putting Dick Wolf’s rechristened “L.A. Dragnet” at 10 p.m.

The revamped “L.A. Dragnet” will feature a larger ensemble cast and make Ed O’Neill’s Detective Joe Friday a more central figure who mentors a group of younger cops..

Wolf told the audience the show will focus on O’Neill’s character while expanding the robbery-homicide division beneath him.

“These will be intelligent, attractive, ethnically diverse actors, none of whom will be over 35,” Wolf said.

“‘Dragnet” is the most important piece of business for my company since ‘Law & Order’ went on the air,” he added.

Should “L.A. Dragnet” work, Wolf already is licking his lips at the potential franchise possibilities, with “Dragnet” editions based in other locales.

Easier to launch

Despite the shufflepalooza, Lyne said this year’s schedule will actually be easier to launch than last fall, when the net bowed four new laffers (all of which returned).

“We’ve got more bone on the schedule and shows that are performing well,” she said.

ABC ends the season still up 6% among adults 18-49 vs. last season, but most of those gains came in the first half of the year, as well as from the Super Bowl. But without the football classic next season — and with Fox’s “American Idol” returning in January to make another dent in the competish — ABC needs a breakout hit to accelerate its recovery this fall.

“While we still don’t have a mega-hit, what we’ve been able to do is plant new seeds on the schedule, and they’ve taken root,” Braun said.

Also during Braun’s and Lyne’s chat with reporters:

  • ABC echoed the competition by carefully proclaiming that it won’t gorge on reality series as it did this season. The one exception may be the Thursday night reality wheel, which launches with “Extreme Makeover” but also may include “Celebrity Mole” and other series.

Lyne said the net will stick to “shows that fit our brand and have demonstrated appeal in the past — which means you will not see ‘Are You Hot?’ there. … The minute it was on the air, Lloyd and I were made uncomfortable by it.”

  • Bob Guiney, a contestant from this season’s “The Bachelorette,” will segue to the role of “The Bachelor” in the reality skein’s fourth incarnation this fall. Also, ABC will turn the wedding of “Bachelorette” couple Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter into a four-hour event, most likely this December in the normal “Bachelor” slot. The special will serve as a bridge between “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.”

  • Beyond “Kingdom Hospital” (Sony/Touchstone), ABC announced that “Line of Fire” (DreamWorks/Touchstone), which had been given an early pickup last month, will go midseason. Braun said the net will make the rest of its midseason orders, including laffers, in the coming weeks.

Lyne also said the net is redeveloping the drama “111 Gramercy Park,” while “Once and Again” exec producers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick have two projects in the works at the net.

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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