ABC tinkers with lineup, adds host of new shows

Network looks to boost dismal ratings with 11 new programs

May 17, 2006|By TOM JICHA | TOM JICHA,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

ABC unveiled a busy fall schedule to advertisers yesterday, with 11 new programs set to roll out in the first wave and a half-dozen more in the wings.

However, the announcement that generated the most buzz is a brazen programming gambit involving the network's most popular series, Grey's Anatomy. The romantic medical drama, which surged past Desperate Housewives and Lost in the Nielsen ratings this season, is moving to Thursday nights at 9, where it will battle TV's most popular drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

The high-risk move is a bid to establish a presence on a lucrative advertising night on which ABC has been a nonplayer. The shift of Grey's Anatomy might scuttle NBC's plan to rebuild Thursday by scheduling highly regarded newcomer Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip in the 9 p.m. hour. Counter-programming one huge hit is doable; taking on two is suicidal. NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said Monday that he might realign his fall lineup depending on what ABC did with Grey's Anatomy.

The ratings foundation laid by Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and Lost has masked the fact that ABC is coming off a miserable season, which explains the uncommonly high number of new shows. Only one scripted drama from this season, the late-arriving What About Brian, is returning. The entire freshman class from last fall has been canceled, most notably Commander in Chief and Invasion. Also cut loose are Hope & Faith, Freddie and Sons & Daughters.

One of five new comedies set to debut, Betty the Ugly is an English-language takeoff on the wildly popular Telemundo telenovela Betty La Fea. America Ferrera stars as a plain Jane, or rather Betty, working in the fashion industry.

Let's Rob ... , about a bunch of blue-collar types who plan a daring heist, figures to be one of the more talked-about rookies. The sitcom was originally known as Let's Rob Mick Jagger. The Rolling Stone singer has agreed to being the caper's target but apparently not to having his name in the title.

Big Day borrows the 24 format and applies it to Father of the Bride, as the entire season is built around a wedding day. Ted Danson returns to episodic TV as an eccentric therapist in Help Me Help You. Another new ABC comedy, Notes from the Underbelly, deals with an expectant couple and the meddling they suffer from family and friends.

Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffiths and Patricia Wettig are among the Brothers & Sisters, a family drama that takes over the post-Desperate Housewives slot, where Grey's Anatomy had reigned.

Anne Heche plays a recently cheated-on woman searching for a mate in Alaska, where there are Men in Trees.

The Nine are hostages in a bank robbery, in which Lost-like back stories complement the core plot of dealing with their predicament. Tim Daly, Chi McBride and Scott Wolf head the cast.

Six Degrees is the latest brainchild of J.J. Abrams, creator of Lost and Alias. Lifting the Six Degrees of Separation concept, the drama shows how the actions of six New Yorkers affect each of the others.

Backup shows include the dramas Day Break, which puts Taye Diggs in a Groundhog Day-like dilemma; Traveler, about a prank that has dire consequences; and the comedy In Case of Emergency, about high school pals who reunite as adults.

A game show, Set for the Rest of Your Life, has been slated for Tuesday at 8 once Dancing with the Stars finishes its fall run. The George Lopez Show and According to Jim, which are missing from the starting lineup, are penciled in to replace the Dancing results show on Wednesday. Also awaiting a spot on the schedule is Greg Behrendt's Wake-Up Call, an advice show, and Just for Laughs, a hidden-camera series.

Tom Jicha writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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