- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

ABC unveils fall slate

ABC’s new fall schedule includes an expanded “Dancing With the Stars,” a two-hour Wednesday night comedy block and the apocalyptic thriller “Flash Forward,” being used as a lead-in for “Grey’s Anatomy” on Thursday nights, the Hollywood Reporter said Tuesday.

On Mondays, “Dancing,” expanded from its usual 90 minutes, will give a strong lead-in to the sophomore detective drama “Castle,” which showed more ratings heft when provided a direct boost from the reality show at the end of this season.

Tuesdays kick off with Mark Burnett’s new reality competition, “Shark Tank” (with the return of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” filling the slot in early fall, the network said). The “Dancing” results show remains at 9 p.m., followed by Jerry Bruckheimer’s latest crime drama, “The Forgotten.”

The headline here is Wednesday nights, when ABC will become the third broadcast network to offer a two-hour comedy block. “Hank,” “The Middle,” “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town” compose the lineup. “Eastwick,” ABC’s update of the John Updike novel “The Witches of Eastwick,” will follow at 10 p.m.

Launching an entirely new night of television is something ABC has done before, when it premiered “Pushing Daisies,” “Private Practice” and “Dirty Sexy Money” on this night a few years back. However, having four comedies without a familiar title among them is considered a bold move.

“This is our biggest risk, but our biggest upside as well,” ABC entertainment President Steve McPherson said at the network’s press conference.

Mr. McPherson also said that “Scrubs” and “Better Off Ted,” while better known to viewers, were considered too male-skewing for the lineup. Both shows are planned for sometime in midseason, he added.

Thursdays will lead off with “Flash Forward,” which is unexpected, followed by the return of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice.”

Asked if “Grey’s” actors Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight are signed up to return next season, Mr. McPherson said: “They’re both signed on; I can’t say whether they will both be there,” which drew a laugh in the room.

Friday will have “Supernanny,” followed by “Ugly Betty” and “20/20.”

Sunday remains the same with “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Brothers & Sisters.”

Mr. McPherson confirmed the cancellation of “Cupid” and “According to Jim.” He also said the network plans to run off the remaining “Surviving Suburbia” episodes this summer.

Regarding “Scrubs,” the ABC executive said Zach Braff’s six contracted episodes may be spread throughout the show’s 13-episode order, with show runner Bill Lawrence still mulling whether he’s going to do a complete creative reboot of the show or merely segue to another generation of interns a la “ER.”

Asked about the impact of Jay Leno’s 10 p.m. audience, Mr. McPherson said, “It’s a different audience; I think it’s an older audience. It will be interesting to see how many watch that show every night of the week and make it an appointment; that certainly isn’t how they do it in late night. We think it’s an opportunity that throws up audience for CBS and ourselves.”

‘Samantha’ a goner

In other ABC news, the network has canceled “Samantha Who?” which starred Christina Applegate in the title role, Variety reports.

The sitcom had been expected to return in the fall, but it got caught up in this year’s belt-tightening trend at the networks, the trade publication noted. According to an insider close to the show, the decision to scrap “Samantha” came down to numbers. The show couldn’t slash its budget deep enough to make a third-season pickup work.

ABC had been mulling a plan to decrease “Samantha’s” budget by changing the way the show is shot - moving from single-camera to multicamera format. The network was looking to slash as much as $500,000 per episode from the show’s budget, Variety said.

“Samantha” became expendable once ABC picked up such a hefty number of series for next year - 10 in total - and with that large a crop of freshman series, it no longer made sense to bring “Samantha” back.

The show was a strong performer for the Alphabet network on Monday nights in its 2007 debut season, but it faltered this year after moving to Thursdays, Variety notes.

‘L&O’ back for 20th

“Law & Order” will match “Gunsmoke’s” record 20-year run, the Hollywood Reporter says.

NBC on Monday renewed Dick Wolf’s veteran crime drama for a 20th season, unnamed sources told the THR. The order is thought to be for 16 episodes.

Mr. Wolf had been open about his desire to tie “Gunsmoke” for the longest-running drama series on television.

Once a staple at NBC, “L&O,” which spawned two successful spinoff series with “Law & Order: SVU” and “Law & order: Criminal Intent,” has seen its ratings slide in the past couple of seasons when it served as a midseason replacement.

Its current cast includes Jeremy Sisto, Anthony Anderson, Sam Waterston, S. Epatha Merkerson, Alana De La Garza and Linus Roache.

Lifetime slots ‘Sherri’

Lifetime has ordered 12 episodes of a multicamera comedy starring “The View” co-host Sherri Shepherd, which comes from its own production unit, Variety reports.

“Sherri,” in which Miss Shepherd’s character will juggle being a single mom, paralegal and actress, will mark the first self-owned comedy to air on the cable network. The new series will re-team Miss Shepherd with executive producers Terri Minsky, Nina Wass and Gene Stein, all of whom worked together on “Less Than Perfect.”

The premiere date for “Sherri” has not been set. Production will take place in New York, and Miss Shepherd will continue her work on “The View,” Variety says.

She also has been seen in a recurring role on NBC’s “30 Rock” as the wife of Tracy Morgan’s character.

“Sherri” will join “Rita Rocks” as a second original comedy airing on Lifetime, which is also syndicating “How I Met Your Mother,” “Reba,” “Will and Grace” and “Frasier.”

The supporting cast for “Sherri” includes Tammy Townsend, Kali Rocha, Elizabeth Regan and Kate Reinders.

Conan signs guests

Will Ferrell and Pearl Jam will be part of Conan O’Brien’s first “Tonight Show,” the Hollywood Reporter notes.

Mr. Ferrell joined Mr. O’Brien in February for his final “Late Night” show in New York. Now the actor-comedian will help Mr. O’Brien kick off his tenure on “Tonight” in Los Angeles.

Pearl Jam will be the first band on Mr. O’Brien’s show, playing songs from an upcoming studio album, NBC said Monday. Mr. O’Brien takes over the late-night show on June 1, after Jay Leno wraps his 17-year run as “Tonight” host on May 29.

Mr. Leno’s new prime-time show begins in the fall.

* Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports

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