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May 21, 1996

ABC ready to unleash Disney's promo power

The Hollywood Reporter

Harbert unveils 'sophisticated' schedule By Stephen Battaglio NEW YORK _ ABC Entertainment president Ted Harbert presented the network's new 1996-97 primetime schedule Monday, which he said will ''prove ABC stands for smart, sophisticated, high-quality programming'' and have the promotional power of new corporate parent the Walt Disney Co. behind it.

''As of right now all of the discussion or speculation over what ABC is, or what it should stand for should stop, period,'' Harbert told an audience of ad agency executives at Lincoln Center.

''This schedule shows the highest possible quality.

We were also determined to recapture our dominance in adults 18-49, but without sacrificing this network's longstanding commitment to programs the entire family can watch.'' ABC is coming off a season in which it lost its lead in households and adults 18-49 to NBC.

For the first time in at least eight years, the network skipped a brief ratings summary before presenting its lineup to advertising execs.

ABC's approach may be best exemplified Thursday nights, when it will go into tough time periods with programs that have strong creative auspices.

The network will battle against NBC's ''Must See TV'' lineup with two critically acclaimed dramas that struggled in the ratings this past season, ''High Incident'' at 8 p.m. and ''Murder One'' at 9 p.m.

''It's just about impossible to launch a new program against NBC's lineup,'' Harbert said.

''And while we could counterprogram with downscale, C and D county, and exploitative product, that isn't the network ABC wants to be.'' (''C and D county'' is an advertising classification for smaller markets.) Harbert also said the network will take advantage of the promotional reach provided by Disney's other businesses.

''We are now able to market our schedules in ways that no one else can,'' Harbert said.

''When we promote this lineup in the theme parks, hotels, in Disney Stores, in home videos along with our own distribution systems, we will reach more people more often (than at any time) in the history of network television.'' For the first time in several years, the network will also promote its schedule with a snappy advertising tag line: ''ABC It!'' ABC will kick off Monday night with the new 8 p.m. drama ''Dangerous Minds'' from Predawn Prods. and Touchstone Television.

The pilot was a favorite among a number of ABC executives during screenings earlier this month.

Harbert noted the drama will be ''the ideal alternative to the comedy blocks on NBC, CBS, the WB and UPN.'' ''Monday Night Football'' returns at 9 p.m.

''Roseanne'' returns for its ninth season at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Contrary to what many had believed when ABC picked up the show, Harbert said co-star John Goodman will appear on a number of episodes during what is expected to be the series' final season.

''Roseanne'' will be followed by a new female-appeal, family comedy from Touchstone Television starring stand-up comic Lisa Ann Walter called ''Life's Work.'' ''Home Improvement'' is back at 9 p.m., leading into ''Spin City,'' the new comedy from DreamWorks Television with Michael J.

Fox, which the network is depending on to reverse its ratings decline on the night.

''For most of the last decade ABC has been the leader in urban upscale comedies,'' Harbert said. ''Recently our dominance has faded.

All by itself 'Spin City' will do a lot to reverse that trend.'' ABC's top-rated drama ''NYPD Blue'' is back for its fourth season at 10 p.m.

ABC will try to revamp its Wednesday comedy lineup with ''Ellen'' at 8 p.m., followed by the new Carsey-Werner comedy with Molly Ringwald called ''Townies.'' ''Grace Under Fire'' returns at 9 p.m.

followed by ''The Drew Carey Show,'' the only freshman comedy from the 1995-96 season to return to the schedule.

''Primetime Live'' is back for its eighth season Wednesday at 10 p.m. Harbert said producer Steven Bochco will change the format of Thursday's ''Murder One'' from depicting a single case over the entire season to three cases ''that will each play out like a miniseries.'' ABC sources confirmed that Daniel Benzali will not return to the series.

They also said no deal has been made with Alan Alda to replace him.

One exec said the casting move was not likely to happen.

Rather than mount a challenge with a new drama against NBC's ''ER,'' the No. 1 rated program for the 1995-96 season, ABC has chosen to revive its single-subject newsmagazine ''Turning Point'' for Thursday 10 p.m.

Before introducing the Thursday schedule, ABC showed a tape of President Clinton in the Oval Office who said he was rejecting a proposal by Harbert ''to change the calendar and get rid of Thursday night.'' Clinton was enlisted for the routine by ABC executive producer Rick Kaplan, who is a longtime friend of the president.

The ''TGIF'' lineup of kiddie sitcoms will have two new additions this season with Viacom's ''Sabrina the Teenage Witch,'' starring Melissa Joan Hart (''Clarissa Explains It All'') at 8:30 p.m. and Paramount's ''Clueless,'' based on the hit movie, at 9 p.m. ''Family Matters'' will lead off the night at 8 p.m., while ''Boy Meets World'' takes over at 9:30 p.m. ''20/20'' is back at 10 p.m.

The Saturday lineup brings back New World's ''Second Noah'' at 8 p.m., the family drama that did limited business when it aired for several weeks on Monday at 8 p.m. this past season.

When Harbert announced the program was returning, only a single audience member could be heard applauding.

But Harbert said he is determined to see a program succeed that families can watch together.

The network will try to get some mileage out of its full season order of ''Coach'' by scheduling at 9 p.m., where it may possibly be the only comedy scheduled in the time period.

At 9:30, ABC will try Witt-Thomas Prods.' ''Common Law'' with comedian Greg Geraldo.

The Ed Zwick-Marshall Herskovitz production team returns to ABC in the 10 p.m.

time period with the drama ''Relativity,'' which is expected to appeal to the young female audience that watched NBC's ''Sisters'' in the time period.

Sunday is the only night to return intact, with an hour of ''America's Funniest Home Videos'' at 7 p.m., followed by the third season of ''Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman'' at 8 p.m. and ''The ABC Sunday Night Movie'' at 9 p.m.

Harbert promised that more dollars would be put behind the promotion of its TV movies, which experienced serious ratings declines during the past season.

Harbert, whose future with the network has been the subject of speculation, asked the audience to give ABC's new lineup a close look after a season where it took a beating from first place NBC.

''Watch their shows and watch ours,'' he said.

''We might have had a bit of a dry spell lately, but just watch these shows and decide who had the better development.''

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