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ABC'S UPFRONT PRESENTATION A 'COMEBACK IN PROGRESS'

Network Cuts Include 'Extreme Makeover' and 'Blind Justice'

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- ABC put on a Walt Disney-worthy show yesterday as it unveiled its new programming in a presentation that included a live performance by writer Marc Cherry in top hat and tails singing Sondheim with the actresses from his hit show Desperate Housewives.
Photo: AP
Kelly Ripa of 'Regis and Kelly Live' was among the throng of ABC celebrities on hand to mingle with media buyers at Tuesday's network upfront presentation.
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Held in Avery Fisher Hall, which is part of the New York's Lincoln Center, the network presentation began with a show reel of ABC programming from past decades, including Superman, Mork and Mindy, Soap and Welcome Back Kotter.

And then the day's real business got under way in front of 700 marketers, agency executives and members of the press.

Modest expectations
ABC executives didn't underplay the network's numerous drama successes this year, but they did keep expectations for next season in check. "We believe we are off to a good start," ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson said. "Are we content? Not at all.

"This is a comeback in progress," he said. "We are rebuilding our relationship with the audience, our advertisers, affiliates, Wall Street, the creative community. At the end of the day our future is dependent on the shows. Our brand is defined by wish-fulfillment," he said.

Already media executives are forming a consensus about what's going to work and how the new schedule shapes up against the competition. ABC left only Sunday night intact, otherwise shifting or axing shows on every other night of the week. Gone are My Wife and Kids, 8 Simple Rules, Extreme Makeover and Blind Justice.

Blind cop joke
"We put on a show about a blind cop that no one saw," ABC's late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel joked from the stage.

The scheduling move most positively received by agency researchers was the shift of Lost on Wednesday night from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., allowing the possibility that the desert-island mystery drama will attract even more viewers.

Among the most talked about shows at the after-party were: the drama Commander-in-Chief, starring Geena Davis, who fights misogyny to take her place as the next president; sitcom Sons & Daughters, from Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, about a complicated extended family; and Invasion, about a secret alien takeover in Florida.

Commenting on Commander-in-Chief, Lisa Quan, vice president and manager of broadcast research at Magna Global, part of Interpublic Group of Cos., said: "The unfinished pilot is more about the family and how they cope with mom being the president. If Donald Sutherland stays in it, it looks pretty good." Commander-in-Chief

Photo: AP
Donald Sutherland's role in the new 'Commander-in-Chief' was one of the most-talked about items at the ABC after-party. Mr. Sutherland was on hand for the event.
will occupy the 9 p.m. slot opposite NBC's reality show The Biggest Loser.

No strong sitcoms
ABC's new sitcom offerings did not get such an all out thumbs-up. "What About Brian didn't impress me," Ms. Quan said, "but Freddie looks like a good match for George Lopez. I see they're fixing a couple of their nights, which means they could come off a bit better next season, but I don't see any really strong sitcoms this fall."

What About Brian is produced by Lost and Alias creator J.J. Abrams. Freddie, starring Freddie Prinze Jr., is about a bachelor chef and all the women in his life.

"We're not sure why ABC is bringing back the weak-performing [comedy] Rodney. We can't imagine the program would return if the network didn't own it," Ms. Quan wrote in a schedule analysis released this morning. Magna predicts that ABC must surely be aiming for the lucrative Thursday night movie advertising by hollywoods studios by placing Alias and a remake of Night Stalker on that night next season.

The new ABC prime-time schedule:

Monday
8 p.m. Wife Swap
9 p.m. Monday Night Football (ends January)

Monday - Midseason
8 p.m. The Bachelor
9 p.m. Emily's Reasons Why Not
9.30 p.m. Jake in Progress
10 p.m. What About Brian

Tuesday
8 p.m. According to Jim
8.30 p.m. Rodney
9 p.m. Commander-in-Chief
10 p.m. Boston Legal

Wednesday
8 p.m. George Lopez
8.30 p.m. Freddie
9 p.m. Lost
10 p.m. Invasion

Thursday
8 p.m. Alias
9 p.m. The Night Stalker
10 p.m. Primetime Live

Friday
8 p.m. Supernanny
9 p.m. Hope & Faith
9.30 p.m. Hot Properties
10 p.m. 20/20

Saturday
8 p.m. ABC movie of the week

Sunday
7 p.m. America's Funniest Home Videos
8 p.m. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
9 p.m. Desperate Housewives
10 p.m. Grey's Anatomy

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