Comedies not enough for ABC, dramas needed

'Sisco,' '10-8,' 'Threat,' 'Fire' results not inspiring

HOLLYWOOD — As much as ABC would like to rebuild its 22-hour sked one half-hour brick at a time, eventually it’s gonna need someone to do the heavy lifting.

As it approaches midseason, the fourth-place Alphabet net can take comfort in knowing that it’s added a few more solid comedy pieces to its sked — although still no megahit — with the addition of “Hope and Faith,” “I’m With Her” and “It’s All Relative.”

But the world of drama continues to be a black hole, with disappointing results for “Karen Sisco,” “10-8,” “Threat Matrix” and “Line of Fire.”

And since dramas occupy twice as much space on the sked as comedies, you get the sense that ABC will continue to tread water at best until it confronts its hourlong impasse.

Perhaps most puzzling is ABC’s selection in the category, as it continues to opt primarily for narrow, dark choices that are the antithesis of what you might picture an “According to Jim” fan clamoring to watch after a long day of work.

In recent years, only the John Stamos starrer “Thieves” comes to mind as something resembling what might have worked on ABC. It’s admirable to try the “Gideon Crossings” and “Once and Agains,” but ABC needs to find some meat- and-potatoes dramas first.

Especially at a time when NBC and CBS are so heavy on police procedurals, the Alphabet needs to stake out a drama niche of its own. And here’s a tip: Think broader, younger and — if there is such a word — funner.

Perhaps Stephen King’s “Kingdom Hospital” could be a step in the right direction. The medical thrill ride will take on a seemingly vulnerable “Law & Order” Wednesdays at 10, and is positioned well behind reality hit “The Bachelor.”

A quick look at the net:

WHAT SMOKED: ABC’s success story of the fall has been the return of comedy on Friday, where its TGIF lineup of adult comedies with broad appeal have led the 8-10 p.m. block in 18-49. “Hope & Faith” has anchored nicely at 9, and both “George Lopez” at 8 and “Life With Bonnie” at 9:30 have also impressed.

“Married to the Kellys” has done OK at 8:30, but the net could do better, and will likely give the new “Big House” a shot here in March.

Overall, ABC claims three of TV’s top 10 comedies among 18-49ers in “8 Simple Rules,” “According to Jim” and the unsung “My Wife and Kids.”

Net also continues to get nice contributions from its newsmags (both “Primetime” on Thursday and “20/20” on Friday are up year-to-year) and from reality pluggers like “Celebrity Mole” and “Extreme Makeover.”

WHAT CHOKED: Did we mention drama? Net’s top skeins rank only 12th (“NYPD Blue”), 13th (“Alias”) and 15th (“The Practice”) among network dramas, and all are on the decline. “Karen Sisco” didn’t click on Wednesdays but will get another shot on a new night in upcoming weeks.

Net will also give legal drama “The D.A.,” starring Steven Weber, a four-week shot on Sundays.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Net smartly saved the bulk of its strong theatrical pics (“Meet the Parents,” “Jurassic Park 3,” “Fast and the Furious”) for a Monday movie night, where they will join a smattering of original pics like “The Mystery of Natalie Wood.”

Overall, ABC seems poised for a stronger close to the season than a year ago when it reeked of desperation with shows like “Are You Hot” and “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.”

Unfortunately, big events on other networks will make it difficult for the Alphabet, which is down about 5% year-to-year and seemingly destined for a fourth-place finish, to make too much headway in the season’s second half.

But if it can weather the storm of this season and perhaps plant another seed or two for next season over the next couple of months, it will enter the 2004-05 season in decent shape.

The foundation is certainly sturdier than it’s been in a while.

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