ABC edges out edgy fare for broader TV

Network hopes auds will tune in for popcorn-fare projects

ABC won’t be pushing the envelope quite so hard next season with its new batch of dramas.

At a NATPE panel about broadcast standards in an “age of permissiveness,” ABC drama chief Thom Sherman said the net is trying to broaden out the appeal of its hours after several seasons of trying edgier fare.

“We’ve done a lot of smart, edgy dramas, and we can’t seem to get arrested,” Sherman acknowledged. “We’re not going to dumb down our shows, but I think they’ll be more broadly entertaining.”

Sherman said the net is developing drama pilots that are more like popcorn-fare theatrical blockbusters and less like some of its artier projects.

Fellow panelist David Garfinkle of nonfiction powerhouse Renegade said American auds are hypocritical in that they clamor for classy shows-but don’t tune in when given the chance.

“We say we want better programming but when those shows go on the air, we don’t watch them,” said Garfinkle, whose company produces “Blind Date” and “The Fifth Wheel.”

Advertisers also seem to be of two minds when it comes to edgier content — unwilling to embrace risk-taking shows early on, but more than eager to hop on the bandwagon of a hit, no matter what its content.

Laura Caraccioli-Davis of SMG Entertainment said her ad clients initially resisted “Survivor” when it was being pitched because the show seemed “mean-spirited.” Once the ratings went through the roof, their resistance disappeared.

Nonetheless, nets are still mindful of advertiser reaction to shows. Sherman said ABC’s ad sales division was vocal in its concerns over drama “Line of Fire,” while Garfinkle claimed Fox’s “Forever Eden” is really just a more ad-friendly version of this summer’s saucy “Paradise Hotel.”

“I’m sure once the show gets going, it’s going to go the same place as ‘Paradise,’ ” he said. Fox execs have said “Eden” is not a replacement for “Paradise,” and that the latter skein could still return to the net’s sked.

Viacom Prods. prexy Perry Simon won a round of applause from some of the panel audience when he said broadcasters shouldn’t be surprised if some advertisers have problems with what’s being served up.

“As producers and distributors of content, people here have to take some responsibility for what … we put on the air,” Simon said.

Jody Simon of Lord, Bissell & Brook moderated the panel.

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