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Nets wonder about winter

January sked tweaks gain in importance as ratings race tightens

No ratings race in memory hinges more on the moves each net will soon likely make, as any of the closely bunched Big Four — including a resurgent ABC — could break from the pack with a hit.

ABC and NBC have the deepest bench of programs but also the most timeslots to address. CBS has the least need for new product but doesn’t have a lot of game-changers on its bench anyway.

Fox, meanwhile, is reeling in November as its reality-heavy sked has been greeted coolly by viewers, but it will add some meat to its bones in January with three hours of proven programs (“American Idol,” “24” and “Bernie Mac”).

Here’s a look at how each net might improve in 2005:

ABC

Home to the season’s three most impressive newbies (“Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and “Wife Swap”), net will add dramas “Eyes” and “Grey’s Anatomy” as well as a sitcom and reality show or two.

“Grey’s” seems like a good fit for Sunday at 10 (where “Boston Legal” resides), while “Eyes” could play on just about any night. And then there’s “Alias,” which will not be returning to Sunday at 9 (where “Housewives” is cleaning up) and could be asked to bring its loyal aud to a tough timeslot like Thursday at 9.

Net could use a drama and movies and specials to plug for football on Monday.

CBS

Eye likely will use its batch of “Yes, Dear” episodes in the Wednesday 9:30 slot in place of “Center of the Universe,” while the new crime drama “Numbers” seems a logical choice for Friday at 10.

Beyond that, CBS has some unscripted skeins but no obvious spot for them.

One possibility is Saturday at 8 (maybe “Nightmare on Elm Street: Real Nightmares”) or perhaps Tuesdays at 10 behind “Amazing Race” for Martha Stewart-wannabe skein “Domestic Diva” in place of “Judging Amy” repeats. And something could go Thursdays at 8 in the few weeks between “Survivor” installments.

NBC

Peacock has the hardest sked calls to make, as most of its promising pieces will be asked to invade tough slots.

Boxing show “The Contender” seems best fitted for Monday at 10, giving the net an entire lineup of male appeal. Psychic crime drama “Medium” seems like a good Friday show, perhaps spelling “Third Watch” repeats at 9, and “Office Space” could pair nicely with “Scrubs” on Tuesday.

“Trial by Jury” might go Friday at 10, but don’t rule out the net stacking two “L&Os” on the same night, such as Wednesday or Sunday at 8.

Fox

In addition to its returning shows in January, hopefuls also include the animated “American Dad” (likely paired with “The Simpsons” on Sunday) and the spooky drama “Point Pleasant,” which could play Thursdays after “The OC.” Both shows are expected to get pushes during the Super Bowl.

UPN

Net will air its Missy Elliott reality project in the “Top Model” Wednesday slot but doesn’t figure to make many other changes, except for tweaks to its comedy lineups, where “One on One” spinoff “Cuts” and a new Jenny McCarthy laffer seek a home.

WB

Biggest priority should be moving “Smallville” to 9 on Wednesday to get it away from “Lost” and to feed off of viewers looking for good drama after the ABC skein ends.

Returning drama “Summerland” would work nicely as “Smallville’s” lead-in; dating skein “Big Man on Campus” is a good choice for Sundays at 9; and Fran Drescher comedy “Shacking Up” sounds good as the “Reba” lead-in on Friday.

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