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ABC Shaking Up Its Evening Lineup

The new season: The network will add 10 new shows, as well as a revival of 'The Wonderful World of Disney.'

May 19, 1997|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seeking to breathe life into its ailing prime-time lineup, ABC will say "out with the old, in with the new" next fall, adding 10 new programs plus a revival of "The Wonderful World of Disney."

The new series--including the Disney movie, which will air from 7 to 9 p.m. Sundays--total 9 1/2 hours of the network's 22-hour prime-time schedule.

In addition, ABC renewed two shows that were seen just a handful of times this spring: "The Practice," a legal drama from "Chicago Hope" producer David E. Kelley; and "Soul Man," the sitcom starring Dan Aykroyd, which will be asked to fill "Roseanne's" shoes by leading off Tuesday nights opposite NBC's "Mad About You."

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Historically, such wholesale changes have not proved successful, providing too much for viewers to absorb in an increasingly crowded media environment. As a sign of that turnover, ABC, which officially announces its lineup today, won't have a single show at 8 p.m. that was in the same time period a year ago--a key hour in that it opens the evening.

To help make room for new programs, the network will hold in reserve "Grace Under Fire" and "America's Funniest Home Videos"--onetime hits that watched their ratings drop precipitously this season. Meanwhile, ABC has renewed "Ellen," despite reports that series star Ellen DeGeneres asked that the program be allowed to end now, wanting to go out on a high note after the critically lauded episodes in which her character came out as a lesbian.

The comedy is produced by ABC's parent company, Disney, which sources say played a part in the decision to bring the series back because of financial benefits the studio reaps from the program. "Ellen" has been scheduled in its current time slot, Wednesdays, after "The Drew Carey Show."

Responding to its ratings slide this season, ABC canceled such marginal shows as "Relativity," "High Incident," "Murder One," "Dangerous Minds," "Townies" and "Life's Work." "Roseanne" and "Coach" conclude their nine-year runs this month as well, while the long-running "Family Matters" will shift to CBS next season.

The fate of another veteran show, "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," remains uncertain. ABC is trying to get out of a prior commitment to renew the program, and at minimum it won't be scheduled in the fall.

Of last fall's rookie crop, "Spin City," starring Michael J. Fox, and "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" will return. Another first-year program, the teen-oriented comedy "Clueless," failed to make the grade but is expected to resurface almost immediately on the UPN network.

ABC will move "Spin City" to 8 p.m. Wednesdays--emulating NBC's strategy of putting more adult fare like "Friends" in what was once viewed as the family hour. Congressional critics have been pressuring the industry to reinstate those guidelines.

"Hiller and Diller," starring Richard Lewis and "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Kevin Nealon as a team of comedy writers, inherits "Spin City's" current berth after "Home Improvement" Tuesdays, the network's most coveted time period.

Two new sitcoms produced by Disney will also join the youth-appeal "TGIF" Friday lineup, paired with "Sabrina" and "Boy Meets World." Both have a fantasy element: "The Genie Show" is about a single mom who inherits a genie, while "Teen Angel" has a dead teenager becoming his friend's guardian angel.

The other new comedies are "Over the Top," starring Tim Curry as an out-of-work actor who takes a job at his ex-wife's inn, and "Dharma & Greg," about a daughter of '60s "flower children" who marries a wealthy young man.

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Five new dramas will be added to the schedule, including an adaptation of the movie "Timecop," about a policeman who pursues criminals through time; and "C 16," with Eric Roberts heading a team of young FBI agents.

Another show, "Cracker," based on a British series that's played on the Arts & Entertainment Network, stars Robert Pastorelli ("Murphy Brown") as a police psychologist. Sources say it will join "Nothing Sacred," about a young priest whose faith is tested by his difficult parish, in equally dangerous territory opposite NBC's popular Thursday lineup.

"NYPD Blue" producer Steven Bochco will have two new programs in the fall: "Total Security," for ABC, stars James Belushi as part of a high-tech security firm. Bochco is also producing a CBS drama about uniformed cops, "Brooklyn South."

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The latest incarnation of "The Wonderful World of Disney" will feature a mix of original and theatrical family films, including a new version of "Oliver!" and broadcast premieres of Disney's "Pocahontas," "Toy Story" and "The Santa Clause." Emulating the studio's founder, Disney Chairman Michael Eisner will introduce the movie each week.

The Fox and UPN networks will unveil their schedules Tuesday, with Fox's lineup to feature a new sci-fi show from the producers of "Independence Day," entitled "The Visitor," as well as another legal series from "Chicago Hope's" Kelley.

In addition to "Clueless," UPN will add three new sitcoms, including one starring comic Andrew Dice Clay. UPN will also expand to a fourth night of programming (as will the rival WB network), most likely by introducing a Thursday night movie.

CBS will conclude the annual schedule-setting ritual Thursday, at which point the networks will begin to sell advertising time for next season. Industry sources estimate the harvest at stake for the broadcast networks will total $6 billion.

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