ABC sees comedy as its key to the future. The Disney-owned network's fall prime-time schedule will include four new comedies, as well as renewals for all four comedies launched in the 2002-2003 season. When you add in My Wife and Kids and According to Jim, ABC will have a total of 10 sitcoms come autumn, more than any other network.
In hopes of cementing its reputation as the comedy network, ABC plans to reclaim Friday as the night for family-friendly sitcoms. This new era of TGIF sitcoms will skew a bit older than the back-in-the-day slate that included Full House and Family Matters. "It makes sense for ABC to go heavy into comedy, especially TGIF," says Steve Sternberg, senior V.P./director of audience analysis at MAGNA Global USA, a major media buying firm. "But, [ABC] is moving so many shows around, it could spell problems."
He has a point. ABC Entertainment chairman Lloyd Braun may be saying ABC "steadied" itself last season, but the network is still in a rebuilding phase, necessitating much program shuffling. ABC will launch three new dramas and each will face extremely tough competition. Dragnet has been renewed and renamed L.A. Dragnet for next season. The updated cop classic was far from a hit, but it will be the only drama from ABC's 2002-2003 schedule to return. Here's a night-by-night look:
At 8 pm, ABC will lead in to Monday Night Football with editions of Primetime Monday. Another newsmagazine hour is hardly inspired programming, but it's more cost-efficient than a comedy or drama. When the NFL goes away in January, the network will run a movie of the week at 9. Traditionally, ABC has had difficulty replacing MNF with scripted series, says ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne. Scheduling a movie after football season is a smart way for ABC to use its large inventory of theatrical releases.
8 Simple Rules..., ABC's strongest freshman comedy from last season, starts the night off. It will be followed at 8:30 by I'm with Her, a new comedy based on the experiences of Brooke Shields's husband, writer Chris Henchy. It follows the travails of an ordinary guy married to a celebrity. Lyne says it was the highest-testing comedy in ABC's history. (Always proceed with caution when you hear that: Seinfeld and All in the Family both tested horribly). According to Jim (at 9) and Less Than Perfect (at 9:30) will follow. NYPD Blue will stay put at 10, but will face tough competition opposite NBC's Law & Order: SVU, which has moved to a new night. Sternberg says: The network vs. network cop showdown suggests "too little counter-programming. The object seems to be 'kill the other guy.'"
After My Wife and Kids at 8, the network will launch It's All Relative, a family comedy with a twist. Loosely based on the concept of the movie The Birdcage, it's about a Boston bartender from a working class Irish Catholic family and his fiancee, a Harvard grad whose parents are two gay men. At 9, The Bachelor returns. "We're trying to use some restraint with reality [programming]," says Lyne. "You won't be seeing any more Are You Hots. If we do reality, it has to fit in with the tenor of the network." Karen Sisco, a new drama based on the FBI agent Jennifer Lopez played in the movie Out of Sight (this time starring Spy Kids's Carla Gugino), will follow at 10. "Like most of our dramas, this will be character-driven," says Lyne, who thinks a drama with a tough female star will work in tandem with The Bachelor's female-skewing audience.
The network kicks off at 8 with Threat Matrix, an action drama focusing on an elite team working for the Homeland Security Agency. (It will need special forces, indeed, to make any inroads against NBC's Friends or CBS's Survivor.) Keeping program costs low on a night where the competition is tough, ABC will follow at 9 with its plastic surgery extravaganza, Extreme Makeover, in a new day and time. Primetime Thursday is ABC's only Thursday show returning to its timeslot.
The George Lopez Show moves to Friday at 8 to kick off the network's return to TGIF. Following it will be two new comedies, Back to Kansas and Hope & Faith, starring Faith Ford as a stay-at-home mom whose life changes when her sister an out-of-work soap-opera diva played by Kelly Ripa moves in. Bonnie Hunt's hit-and-miss sitcom Life with Bonnie follows at 9:30. 20/20 returns to its accustomed 10 pm perch, with John Stossel seated next to Barbara Walters as her new co-anchor. Sternberg says: "Since ABC dropped TGIF, Friday has been a disaster, so they have to do better this year. Still, WB has its own slate of family comedies on Friday, too, so it won't be easy to reclaim that turf."
The Wonderful World of Disney moves from Sunday to Saturday at 8. "It's a night that a young audience is home and available," says Braun. "The [broadcast] networks haven't been programming aggressively on Friday or Saturday. We're really trying to change that so the audience doesn't go away to cable." L.A. Dragnet, with a new day, a new title and a new premise, will air at 10. According to uber-producer Dick Wolf, the show is being retooled so that Ed O'Neill's Joe Friday is now mentoring a troop of "under 35" Robbery-Homicide-Division trainees. Wolf promised hot casting announcements for these new roles throughout the summer.
It's a new day and time for America's Funniest Home Videos, kicks off the night at 8. It will be followed by 10-8, a new cop show about "a Brooklyn bad boy" who becomes a Los Angeles sheriff trainee. "It's not a procedural police drama," says Lyne. "There are enough of those on already. It's about relationships." Alias returns for a third season in its same 9 pm time period, followed by The Practice, back in its old slot for an eighth season after a disastrous move to Monday nights. Sternberg says: "NBC has a lawyer show on against it [Lyon's Den starring Rob Lowe]. One show or the other in that battle will get hurt."
For the complete ABC schedule, click here. And you can read what Matt Roush thinks of the lineup here.