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Frog, Alphabet tell lessons learned

Nets coming off difficult seasons, stress need for growth

They’ve learned to stop worrying and start loving reality at ABC and the WB, both of which unveiled skeds Tuesday heavy on the unscripted side.

The two nets are coming off difficult seasons, and they stressed their need to grow in the ratings this fall. To that end, webheads admit that the genre works.

“I don’t separate shows out in terms of reality, drama and comedy,” ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson said. “I’m looking for shows that people will get passionate about. Great reality shows have great storytelling, just like great drama. That’s what gets me excited.”

And net execs pointed out that not only does reality succeed, but that advertisers have finally embraced the form.

“We heard last year that advertisers did not want reality,” WB CEO Jordan Levin said. “We listened to them and tried to do what we thought the advertisers wanted. But then reality scored, and advertisers flocked to them in a big way.”

As a result, ABC heads into fall with five reality skeins on the sked — two of which were originally expected to launch this summer. WB, meanwhile, has commissioned big projects for next season from reality titans Mark Burnett, Mike Fleiss, Michael Davies and Bruce Nash, among others.

McPherson took the stage Tuesday afternoon at New York’s New Amsterdam Theater, unveiling his first sked as ABC’s entertainment prexy. Earlier, talking to reporters, he admitted that the past month had been quite a daze.

“Twenty-nine days here, and it’s like being fired out of a cannon,” McPherson said. “I now have sympathy for all the network executives I beat up over the years.”

As expected (Daily Variety, May 18), ABC announced a sked with eight new shows — four dramas, two comedies and two reality entries — as well as two more dramas for midseason.

Of those new shows, four come from sibling Touchstone TV and four from outside suppliers. When former Touchstone topper McPherson moved to the network side, some observers wondered whether the exec would favor his own studio development.

“We put that to rest,” McPherson said. “At the end of the day, we put the best shows in the best time periods.”

McPherson said the net was especially focused on developing a new generation of drama hits. New skeins in that genre include Wednesday night J.J. Abrams entry “Lost,” Thursday’s “Life as We Know It” (described as a male “My So-called Life” — so much so that its logo even shares the same lower-case typeface as the mid-’90s cult ABC fave) and Sunday’s sudsy “Desperate Housewives” and newly remonikered “The Practice: Fleet Street.”

“Drama has been broken at ABC, no question,” he said. “We feel like we had the goods this year.”

Dwindling laughter

Meanwhile, net confirmed it had reduced its comedy load to eight, down from 10 — joining the trend across the network landscape as laffers continue to disappear from the skeds. Newcomers “Rodney” and “Savages” have been sandwiched inside ABC’s Tuesday and Friday night skeds, respectively.

Then there are the new reality skeins, “The Benefactor” and “Wife Swap.” McPherson was bullish on both projects.

The exec touted “Benefactor” star Mark Cuban as the “anti-Donald Trump” and said “Wife Swap” “speaks to the family and fits perfectly in the ABC brand.”

For midseason, net has slated medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” at 10 on Mondays, after “Monday Night Football” ends its run in January. Meanwhile, as expected, Steven Bochco’s “Blind Justice” will fill in on Tuesday nights when “NYPD Blue” takes a break, while “Alias” is on hold until midseason, when it returns to its old Sunday night slot. Also on deck is the Tim Daly starrer “Eyes.”

The spotty cycle of repeats and preemptions for “Alias” had frustrated even the show’s biggest fans. Abrams — inspired by star Jennifer Garner’s turn in “13 Going On 30” — also plans to lighten the show up this season.

Gone from ABC are “The Big House,” “The D.A.,” “I’m With Her,” “It’s All Relative,” “Karen Sisco,” “Life With Bonnie,” “Line of Fire,” “Married to the Kellys,” “The Practice,” “10-8” and “Threat Matrix.”

Overall, McPherson said it’s going to take time — and several hits — to turn ABC’s fortunes around.

“I disagree that it takes one show, and that’s it,” he said. “Would it be great if ‘American Idol’ walked in the door? Absolutely. But that’s not my strategy. I worry about a network that’s so based around one show. If you can start to have solid performers and then build off it, that’s a start.”

WB rocks presentation

Meanwhile, rocker Lenny Kravitz woke up the sleepy crowd Tuesday morning at Madison Square Garden, kicking off the WB’s upfront presentation.

After giving one last shout-out to Frog founder Jamie Kellner — who officially retired from the network Tuesday — new chairman Garth Ancier admitted the WB had been served a “wake-up call” this past season.

Having suffered a tough blow in the ratings, Levin said the network will attempt to return to growth mode by “diversifying our unique portfolio.”

That includes introducing a game/reality hybrid (“Studio 7”), a male-oriented sketch show (“Blue Collar TV”), a new take on improv (“Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show”) and a returning skein revamped as an hourlong variety program (“Steve Harvey’s Big Time”).

“I believe not changing is not an option,” Levin said.

All told, the Frog’s fall sked boasts 4½ new hours of programming (Daily Variety, May 17). That also includes drama entries “Jack & Bobby” and “The Mountain” plus sitcom “Commando Nanny.”

For midseason, net has Fran Drescher comedy “Shacking Up” as well as Hawaii-based drama “Rocky Point” and Burnett-produced drama “Global Frequency.”

The WB has let loose “All About the Andersons,” “Angel,” “The Help,” “JKX: Jamie Kennedy Experiment,” “Like Family” and “Run of the House.”

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