ABC Fall Roster Is Heavy on the Already Proven

May 13, 2008

ABC on Tuesday is expected to announce a lineup of scripted prime-time shows for next year that will look a lot like this year’s slate, with two notable exceptions: a new drama called “Life on Mars,” in which a police officer is transported from the 21st century back to the 1970s, and “Scrubs,” a castoff from NBC.

Having lost four months of its development season to the writers’ strike, the network will, at least initially, rely heavily on fan favorites like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Ugly Betty,” “Lost” and “Boston Legal.” ABC will also effectively reintroduce shows like “Dirty Sexy Money,” “Pushing Daisies,” “Eli Stone” and “Private Practice,” which had truncated runs this season, according to people briefed on the schedule who did not want to be identified revealing its details before it is officially announced.

Among those series not returning are the comedies “Cavemen” and “Carpoolers”; “Big Shots” and “Men in Trees,” two dramas that were dabbed with comic touches, in much way “Desperate Housewives” is; and another drama, “October Road.”

For ABC, a unit of the Walt Disney Company, the strike came at a particularly inopportune time. This year, as last, it has sought to gain ground on Fox, which, largely because of “American Idol,” remains the most-watched broadcast network among viewers ages 18 to 49, whom advertisers value.

To that end, ABC has a number of projects in development — though with pilots that have not yet been filmed — which could well end up on its prime-time schedule next year. Among the early favorites are “Goode Family,” an animated comedy from Mike Judge and other producers of “King of the Hill”; “Prince of Motor City,” a drama billed as Hamlet set in Detroit; and “Cupid,” a remake of an earlier ABC series that, in its initial run, featured Jeremy Piven and Paula Marshall. The new series will be produced by Rob Thomas, who produced “Veronica Mars.”

ABC has particularly high hopes for “Life on Mars,” a fish-out-of-water tale that was developed by David E. Kelley based on a British series. In a deal that helped broker the return of “Boston Legal,” Mr. Kelley’s long-running comic drama, Mr. Kelley has agreed to hand the production reins of “Life on Mars” off to others (whose salaries might cost ABC less money than his).

For “Scrubs,” the hospital satire finishing its seventh season on NBC, the transfer to ABC is something of a homecoming: the half-hour show is produced by ABC Studios, formerly known as Touchstone.

CW, which is owned jointly by CBS and Time Warner, will also present its fall schedule on Tuesday. If there is a theme to it, according to those given an early peek, it is an effort to replicate the success of “Gossip Girl,” one of the most buzzed-about new shows this year and one particularly popular among viewers ages 18 to 34.

“Beverly Hills 90210,” a confection of rich-kid melodrama from the 1990s, will be updated on CW as, simply, “90210.” Fans of its predecessor can look forward to seeing Jennie Garth reprise her role as Kelly Taylor, who is now the high school guidance counselor. She will appear occasionally. She may be joined by Tori Spelling, who played Donna Martin on the original series and whose name, at least, is being bandied about by producers.

Also new to CW will be “Surviving the Filthy Rich.” Based on a novel of a similar name (“How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls”), it is the story of a bright, up-and-coming fashion editor who loses her job, only to be relocated to Palm Beach, Fla., where she is installed as the tutor of two orphaned teenage girls. Another new series, “Stylista,” also explores the fashion world, but as a fly-on-the-wall in the offices of a real-life magazine, Elle.

The CW comedy “Aliens in America,” which was well-received by critics but never quite found an audience, will not return next year. But most other CW series will return, including: “America’s Next Top Model,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Smallville,” “One Tree Hill,” “Supernatural,” and “The Game.” Those briefed on the CW’s plans said Monday night that “Reaper,” a comedy with something of a cult following, was a good bet to return at mid-season.

One element of the CW schedule will not be announced Tuesday. On Sunday nights next season, it will broadcast four new shows — two comedies and two dramas — born of a production agreement with Media Rights Capital, an independent film and television studio. The lineup of shows for that night is expected to be announced late this week or early next week. In addition to the broadcast networks, several cable networks are also making upfront presentations this week. For example, ESPN, also part of the Walt Disney Company, will offer advertisers its preview on Tuesday morning.

Like many of the broadcasters, ESPN intends to play up its new-media offerings along with what is coming on TV, outlining plans for original programming that will appear only online or on mobile devices. Those shows include “Mayne Street,” featuring Kenny Mayne, the “SportsCenter” anchor; “Eric’s Got Issues,” with Eric Kuselias; “P.O.V.,” which will compile and present video clips that are submitted to ESPN by viewers and fans; and a series about mixed martial arts.

“We have more digital originals than television originals,” said Ed Erhardt, president for ESPN customer marketing and sales, who described the digital shows as “a strategic asset to help broaden our relationship with fans.”

There will be sponsorships available with the new digital offerings, Mr. Erhardt said, along with the opportunity for advertisers to integrate brands and products into the shows.

The upfront week in May was typically the sole province of the broadcast networks, but in recent years cable networks have crashed the party. Three cable networks that are part of Time Warner — TBS, TNT and TruTV, formerly Court TV — will make a joint presentation on Wednesday.

Cable networks had typically made their presentations before or after the broadcasters. But the growing viewership for cable channels and the blurring of the lines between different types of networks have made those distinctions less relevant.

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