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ABC stirring drama pot

Alphabet eager for genre to spell success

HOLLYWOOD — Still on the desperate hunt for a new drama, ABC entertainment toppers said Thursday they are adopting unconventional tactics, such as copying the success of HBO and running a drama series straight through without repeats.

The Alphabet will put this new strategy to the test at the end of the February sweeps, when it bows Stephen King’s 13-episode series “Kingdom Come.”

Appearing at the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour in Los Angeles, ABC Entertainment prexy Susan Lyne said the decision reflects the changing face of the broadcast net biz, which is quickly shifting to a 52-week year versus the traditional 35-week season.

“I do think in this new and highly competitive era that the idea of doing three original episodes and then two repeat episodes — you just lose too much ground,” Lyne said. “So this is a model we are experimenting with for ‘Kingdom Hospital.’ That does not mean we would not bring back other episodes next year or the year after that, but there is a lot to be said for a series that plays out in straight weeks.”

Lyne said she understood why NBC has decided to launch its fall season two to three weeks early, taking advantage of the lead-in of the Summer Olympics, which end Aug. 29.

Summing up ABC’s overall health, Lyne and ABC Entertainment Television Group chair Lloyd Braun said they have made great gains since taking charge two years ago. This season, ABC’s comedies are enjoying a winning season in the key 18-49 demo, including the revived TGIF Friday night block. Reality franchise “The Bachelor” and “Extreme Makeover” also enjoy continued success.

“However, to be fair — and we will be fair — most of our shows are not dominant in their first- and second-place finishes. We simply don’t slaughter the competition the way NBC and CBS do on Thursday night,” Braun said. “While we have developed a new broad-based foundation, we still don’t have a truly dominant series or a dominant night, and that is now our biggest issue.”

This is painfully apparentfor dramas, Braun and Lynne said, noting the underperformance of “Karen Sisco” and “10-8.” On Feb. 15, “10-8” will go off the Saturday night sked for the rest of the season, replaced by the new reality show “Extreme Home Makeover.”

Braun said ABC has not had a new hit drama since “Alias.”

Hoping to reinvigorate “Sisco,” Lyne said the net is relaunching the drama in March. Also around the same time, net will bow four episodes of new drama “The D.A.”

In other announcements:

  • Guest star David Spade has joined the cast of “8 Simple Rules” as a regular cast member.

  • “NYPD Blue” returns to its 10 p.m. Tuesday timeslot on Feb. 10. Braun said the net is in discussions with producer Steven Bochco about extending the show another season.

  • New comedy “The Big House” bows on April 2, airing Friday at 8:30 p.m.

Net also announced a new telepic project, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” based on Mitch Albom’s bestseller.

There also are two specials planned. One, airing in May, will celebrate the first 45 years of Motown. Co-hosts will be Justin Timberlake and Lionel Richie. This spring, Nick and Jessica Lachey will host a variety show.

Skedded for guest appearances during February sweeps on ABC series are Brooke Shields, Penny Marshall, Dan Aykroyd and Laraine Newman.

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