HOLLYWOOD — ABC is neither “desperate” nor “lost” anymore: In just one year, the Alphabet has gone from an industry punchline to the net throwing some of the biggest punches.
Armed with socko first-year dramas “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” and television’s hottest unscripted skein in soph feel-good hour “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” ABC is in the midst of a remarkable rally.
Through 17 weeks this season, ABC is up 10% or more across the board vs. a year ago, rising from fourth to a competitive second in adults 18-49, behind only CBS, according to Nielsen.
And going forward, the Alphabet seemingly has the best hand to play of any broadcaster: young smash hits; hungry marketing and skedding teams thriving now that they’ve been given some tools; a lineup that still has several hours that can improve significantly in the ratings; and a creative team willing to take risks on unique, quality projects to fill them.
Here’s a look at ABC at the midway point of the season:
WHAT WORKED: After not coming up with a drama success for years, the Alphabet hit the jackpot twice with “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” — the biggest first-year drama smashes on any net since NBC’s “ER” in 1994.
Sunday, where “Housewives” shines, has also been bolstered by “EM: Home Edition” at 8, giving ABC a reality-combo every bit as strong as the CBS tandem of “Survivor” and “CSI.” And Wednesday’s “Lost” has effectively been used to boost fourth-year drama “Alias,” which is now also winning its time period.
New drama “Boston Legal” is doing OK Sundays at 10 (but the net would like to see it improve), and “Wife Swap” is a solid addition in a tough 10 o’clock hour on Wednesday.
WHAT HASN’T: The net’s attempt to go for laughs on Friday hit a speed bump as soph anchor “Hope & Faith” isn’t attracting as many eyeballs as last year, although it often wins its slot.
This has had a domino effect on the other Friday comedies, including the transplanted “8 Simple Rules” and “Less Than Perfect.” Verdict’s still out on new family comedy “Complete Savages,” which like new Tuesday comedy “Rodney,” is doing OK with little fanfare.
“The Benefactor,” a rip-off of NBC’s “The Apprentice” fronted by Mark Cuban, was a dud, while teen-centered drama “Life as We Know It” has struggled as part of ABC’s disastrous Thursday sked.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Plenty. Thanks to its drama success, there isn’t an urgency to call on backups like high-tech private-eye hour “Eyes” or hospital skein “Grey’s Anatomy.”
In “Eyes,” though, ABC has one of the best-looking dramas of the season — and one that might work Thursday at 8. “Grey’s” is also a candidate for the time period, or possibly Sunday at 10.
Penciled in for March is new Stephen Bochco police drama “Blind Justice,” which will come aboard Tuesdays at 10 after “NYPD Blue” wraps.
Moving ahead, look for the net to cut back on its reality reliance. “The Bachelor” franchise, for example, was the net’s biggest hit a couple of years ago but has declined sharply; net may now feel it could do better with a drama.
On the comedy side, John Stamos-led “Jake in Progress” is funnier than any laffer currently on ABC, but there isn’t an obvious spot on the sked for the urbane, laugh-track-free skein. “Jake” is a good start, though, for a net looking to break free from its cookie-cutter domestic comedies.
BOTTOM LINE: Big hits, combined with savvy skedding and great-looking development for next season spell more success for the Alphabet. In fact, let’s be the first to predict: ABC will win the 2005-06 season in adults 18-49.