NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - ABC on Tuesday announced plans for 12 new television shows next season, including a spinoff of its hit hospital drama “Grey’s Anatomy” and a caveman comedy based on the popular Geico insurance commercials.
Looking to reignite a ratings rebound that faltered this season, ABC unveiled a broad programming slate for the 2007-2008 broadcast season built around seven new dramas, four new comedies and a new reality show.
The latest crop of prime-time offerings from the Walt Disney Co.-owned network is built around lighter, escapist shows, with character-driven stories, female protagonists and supernatural themes.
The network even picked up a comedy called “Cavemen,” adapted from the Geico commercials as an offbeat commentary on ethnic prejudice from the perspective of three prehistoric guys trying to make their way in the modern world.
But ABC shied away from the kind of complex, serialized mystery dramas that it helped popularize on network TV with the early success of its castaway thriller “Lost,” which shed some of its ratings clout this past season.
“It’s a real different year this year than last year,” said ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson. He described a shift away from “hard, dense, demanding” shows that have fallen somewhat out of favor with viewers.
Not only does that mean more light drama for 2007-08, but it also resulted in the introduction of four new comedies.
“The good thing about comedies is that they’ve been broken for a few years so people are willing to take chances,” McPherson said in a meeting with reporters ahead of ABC’s upfront presentation to advertisers.
ABC pulled two veteran family sitcoms, “George Lopez” and “According to Jim,” from its schedule, leaving the network to start from scratch next fall on the half-hour comedy front.
The company is the next major TV network after NBC to showcase its prime-time lineup for the fall as broadcasters kick off the annual “upfront” advertising market in which some $9 billion in prime-time commercials is expected to be booked in advance.
NBC rolled out five new dramas, several of which featured science fiction and female empowerment themes, including a 21st-century remake of the 1970s adventure “Bionic Woman.”
After two years of solid growth, ABC stumbled in the ratings this past season, due in part to the loss of its highly watched “Monday Night Football” franchise, which moved to sister sports network ESPN.
While reality competition “Dancing with the Stars” grew into a major sensation and comedy “Ugly Betty” gained surprise success, two of ABC’s hottest shows from the year before — “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” — cooled off.
Among the higher-profile dramas on the new lineup is the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff “Private Practice,” which follows Dr. Addison Montgomery as she leaves her Seattle hospital to join a ritzy practice in California.
ABC is hoping the new show will build on the largely female-skewing fan base of “Grey’s Anatomy,” which ranks this season as the second-most watched drama on U.S. television, behind CBS’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
Women viewers have emerged as a key demographic behind the success of several returning ABC hits, from “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Dancing with the Stars” to “Desperate Housewives” and “Ugly Betty.”
ABC is looking to extend the trend with several of its new shows, including two dramas built around predominantly female casts — “Cashmere Mafia,” from “Sex and the City” creator Darren Star, and “Women’s Murder Club,” which has been billed as “Sex and the City” meets “CSI.”
Other ABC drama pickups include “Eli Stone,” the story of a lawyer who thinks he may be a prophet; “Pushing Daisies,” a detective show about a guy who can bring the dead to life; “Big Shots,” involving the boardroom and bedroom intrigues of four dysfunctional CEOs; and a series called “Dirty Sexy Money.”
On the comedy front, ABC will add “Sam I Am,” starring Christina Applegate as a recovering amnesiac; “Miss/Guided,” about an ugly duckling who returns to her alma mater as a guidance counselor; and the male buddy sitcom “Carpoolers.”
Midseason, ABC will also bring out “Oprah’s Big Give,” a reality competition that takes place in various cities.