CHICAGO (thefutoncritic.com) -- ABC will indeed go forward with its long in the works Stephen King drama "Kingdom Hospital" as the Alphabet has given the series a firm midseason 2004 order. That's just one of several announcements ABC executives made late last week concerning May sweeps, fall 2003 and beyond:
-- "Kingdom" will join the previously ordered "Lines of Duty" as the initial members of ABC's 2003-04 season freshman class. Insiders expect "Kingdom" to get a Monday slot once "Monday Night Football" wraps. The Alphabet network initially ordered a two-hour pilot movie and 13 additional episodes back in July of 2001 however production did not go forward. No reason for the delay was given.
-- Speaking of Stephen King, ABC also announced its will bow its "Rose Red" prequel "The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer" on Monday, May 12 at 9:00/8:00c.
-- "Alias" and "The Practice" will both wrap their seasons with two-hour finales on May 4 and May 5 respectively (both starting at 9:00/8:00c).
Comedies important but dramas 'vital' to ABC schedule
"We lost our way, we made mistakes -- it was a mess," Lloyd Braun, ABC Entertainment Group chairman admitted to the advertising community in the network's pre-upfront meetings. "Our goal this season was to plant seedlings that would develop into a new comedy foundation. And the operative theme for our schedule next year is comedy, comedy, comedy, comedy and more comedy. We won't have branding like this year's 'Happy Hour' drive the schedule. We'll set up the schedule first, then see if there is a smart way to brand it."
Susan Lyne, ABC Entertainment president added, "We looked into our past to learn about the future, and what we saw were family comedies and relationship-driven dramas. Since we went into scheduling this season with very few shows to work with -- My Wife and Kids, According to Jim, NYPD Blue, The Practice, Alias, that was it -- we limited our focus to Tuesday and Wednesday, and the 8 p.m. hour. Next year we'll make a concerted effort to introduce new dramas from 9 to 11 p.m."
To that end, ABC expects to have 12 comedies on its schedule however don't expect a return of the reality addiction. "In hindsight, we made a mistake putting on as many reality shows when we did," said Braun. "You won't see a lot of it next season. The Bachelor will be back, and we're considering another edition of I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!" That's it however as Braun confirmed both "Are You Hot?" and "All American Girl" will not return next season. "The Family" however will get a second chance this summer as ABC will air the remaining episodes.
ABC executives then went into a night by night breakdown of its schedule and the possibilities it is considering:
Mondays: "As much as football is a blessing, it's also a curse; and starting from scratch in first quarter is always a challenge," said Braun. "Although we were hoping to successfully launch two new dramas on Monday around The Practice, the results have not been satisfying. Veritas: The Quest and Miracles have been canceled, and the future of The Practice is uncertain." Braun also added that it's extremely unlikely for "The Practice" to return to its old Sunday home next season: "With so much drama development, Sunday at 10 p.m. is a real opportunity [to launch new series]."
Tuesdays: "Eight Simple Rules," "According to Jim" and "N.Y.P.D. Blue" will more than likely stay in their current tentpole slots of 8:00/7:00c, 9:00/8:00c and 10:00/9:00c respectively. Braun was especially enthusiastic about "Jim" taking on "Frasier": "Jim beat Frasier by seven-tenths of a rating point among adults 18-49 in their first head-to-head battle. Who would have ever thought this little comedy could beat a show like Frasier? We are absolutely thrilled, and we think According to Jim is one of our key building blocks for the future." As for the 8:30/7:30c and 9:30/8:30c slots, "Life With Bonnie" was mentioned as likely to relocate to a different night while "Less Than Perfect" seems more apt to stay put in its current home. With the numbers for new midseason comedy "Lost at Home" less than stellar, a solid finish when "Perfect" returns on April 29 will ensure it stays put.
Wednesdays: The makeup for Wednesday will also likely remain intact with only the 10:00/9:00c hour a question mark. "We didn't have a suitable show to put on after The Bachelor this season because we spent too much time focusing on 8 p.m." ABC hopes to use "The Bachelor's" strong lead-in to launch a new drama in the hour.
Thursdays: "We are not going to be afraid of putting scripted programming on Thursday," Braun told reporters however specific plans were not discussed. Braun added however, "I have every expectation that you will continue to see Primetime and 20/20 on the schedule." That leaves the opening two-hour block a mystery.
Fridays: Fridays are also set to remain intact as the network seeks to find a companion for "America's Funniest Home Videos" and "20/20." As for "The Drew Carey Show," Lyne admitted, "Yes, the show did not work for us this year. We tried it in three different time periods, and nothing clicked. If the audience rediscovers the show this summer, we'll figure out a way to get it back on the schedule at some point next season."
Saturdays: The network confirmed once again that movies and specials will dominate its Saturday schedule but left the possibility for scripted programming open in the future: "Maybe we'll do scripted programming on Saturday as we get further in the season, but right now there are plenty of other time periods we need to concentrate on first in midweek," Lyne said.
Sundays: ABC executives also confirmed "The Wonderful World of Disney" will return (along with "Alias") however advertisers admitted they wished ABC would try them on different nights. "As much as the critics love Alias, few people watch it, and neither show is attracting much of an audience on Sunday," said Mediaedge's Lyle Schwartz. "If ABC can fix the 7-9 p.m. block, 9-11 p.m. could be a launching pad for new dramas. As it stands now, Alias is not much of a lead-in." As for "Dragnet," Lyne said if the series does return (she gives it a 50/50 shot) expect some creative changes: "Although the story-telling on Dragnet has been great, the mistake we made was underpopulating the show and not putting any female characters into it. If it comes back, you can expect to see some new characters, females in particular."
New series: Three dramas - "Alaska," "Karen Sisco" and "The Street Lawyer" - continue to be the only three of the 11 piloted by ABC routinely mentioned by executives and advertisers. ABC likes the pre-built audience quality of the latter two while "Alaska" presents a fairly easy to digest premise. With the network set to order 4-6 comedies, two out of the three at the very least seem poised to make the fall schedule.
ABC announces its fall 2003 schedule on May 13 in New York City.