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Risk-free strategies

ABC

WHAT WORKED: The Alphabet web opted to play it safe, sticking with its roster of family comedies and letting the shows slowly build.

As a result, while none of the shows have become “Friends”- or “Everybody Loves Raymond”-type hits, the net’s overall roster of laffers is performing respectably.

That especially includes Tuesday night’s “According to Jim.” The Jim Belushi starrer hasn’t made friends with critics yet now regularly beats crosstown time-period rival “Frasier” among adults 18-49.

“There’s a comedy audience watching our network,” says ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne. “We can promote to that audience and bring people in. We’ve launched 14 comedies since the spring of 2001, 10 of which are still on our schedule. And eight of them regularly win their time periods.”

For the second year in a row, ABC picked up all of its new fall comedies: “It’s All Relative,” “I’m With Her,” “Hope & Faith” and “Married to the Kellys.”

ABC also managed to cope and recover following the devastating loss of “8 Simple Rules” star John Ritter. Although it wasn’t an easy decision, the net and Touchstone TV decided to keep the show going — and viewers agreed with the decision, tuning in to see how the Hennessy family would carry on.

WHAT DIDN’T: While the laughs worked, ABC still had trouble launching its new dramas. Critically acclaimed “Karen Sisco” was yanked and saved for a new time period; the order for “10-8” episodes was reduced; and “Threat Matrix” struggled in its tough assignment: Thursdays at 8 p.m.

Alphabet execs had hoped to break the unlucky streak with “Line of Fire,” which premiered to more strong reviews in December. But viewers have yet to sample it.

“We don’t have many drama time periods on our schedule to promote to that audience that watches dramas,” Lyne says.

WHAT’S AHEAD: ABC execs have now said their penance, several times over, for dropping the ball last spring and making several strategic errors — stunting what had appeared to be a steady ratings recovery.

The network’s over-reliance on reality — particularly entries like “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” — has been well documented.

And then there was the decision to launch two new dramas on Monday night post-football and the even more disastrous decision to move “The Practice” from its longtime Sunday perch.

The network now admits its errors and has made changes. “The Practice” moved back to Sundays, where it has seen new life thanks to a major casting shift. And this January, ABC will bring movies to Monday, rather than trying to craft a new night from scratch.

As a result, the net promises not to repeat the mistakes of last year, even as it goes up against Fox’s formidable “American Idol” competition.

“I think starting in February sweep we will have a much stronger spring than we’ve had in a long time,” Lyne says.

ABC also has several potentially strong pieces coming up in its arsenal: The “Home Edition” spinoff of “Extreme Makeover,” which performed boffo as a one-hour special, will return as a regular series.

Other shows coming up include “Celebrity Mole: Yucatan,” the comedy “Big House” and four-episode drama “The D.A.”

And then there’s Stephen King’s “Kingdom Hospital.” The 15-hour series will air Tuesday nights while “NYPD Blue” takes a break.

“This is a big chip for us,” Lyne says. “One of the things we’ve been looking at is what kind of lessons we can learn from the success of reality series. Clearly people are attracted to something with a narrative arc, and something you don’t have to commit the rest of your life to. It’s also not unlike what HBO does with their series.”

Top 3 Shows:
Monday Night Football – 6.6
The Bachelor – 6.4
8 Simple Rules – 5.9

* Based on 18-49 demo

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