ABC Overhauls Primetime Schedule For the Fall

NEW YORK — ABC, looking to rebuild its primetime schedule, is adding three new comedies and four dramas for its 2002/2003 season, executives said yesterday at the network’s upfront presentation at the New Amsterdam Theater.

The network is staking its claim to the hour between 8pm and 9pm during the week as the ABC Happy Hour, promising media buyers that ABC will compete for that time slot with a mix of returning and new family-themed comedies.

“As we sat in scheduling meetings this year and looked at the competitive landscape, we took note of the opportunity that existed from 8-9 p.m. on most nights of the week — a time period that historically has been a strength and mainstay of ABC,” said Lloyd Braun, Chairman, ABC Entertainment Television Group. “To that end, we are going to promote and claim ownership of the 8:00-9:00 time period every weekday by establishing a horizontal block across the schedule: the ABC Happy Hour. People will know that they can come home from a tough day at work, take their shoes off, relax, turn on ABC at 8:00 and have a great time.”

The new comedies unveiled Tuesday are “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” starring John Ritter as a well-meaning, but confused parent; “Life With Bonnie,” featuring comedienne Bonnie Hunt, explores the life of a mom who hosts a TV show; “Less Than Perfect” has Eric Roberts portraying a narcissistic anchorman and alongside Andy Dick playing the wacky office worker.

ABC’s new dramas include “Dragnet,” a new version of the TV classic from “Law and Order” creator Dick Wolf, which will air after “Monday Night Football” ends in January. “Push, Nevada” is being billed as a quirky drama in the mode of “Twin Peaks” and is co-produced by Ben Affleck. The show is about a mild-mannered IRS agent who travels to a remote desert region in search of missing money. And in what the network calls a “next-generation twist on reality television,” if one viewer can put the evidence together at the end of a multi-episode arc, they’ll win the missing cash that everyone is after.

Other dramas include “”That Was Then,” about a baby boomer who gets a second chance to relive his high school years; “Meds,” imagines MASH-like doctors in a San Francisco hospital that’s run by a stingy HMO; “Dinotopia: The Series,” follows a father and his two sons as they try to adapt to a land that time forgot.

Certainly, a highlight of the presentation was the introduction of Jimmy Kimmel, of Comedy Central’s “The Man Show,” who will host a late night comedy show that follows Ted Koppel’s “Nightline” broadcast. Kimmel poked fun at Braun and Susan Lyne, president of ABC’s entertainment division, by thanking them for giving him a show, “even though by the time it airs, you probably won’t be working here.” Kimmel added incredulously, “This is the plan to resurrect the network? Dragnet and me?”

Sizing up the man who’ll be following “Nightline,” Koppel quipped, “Arafat told me one of his kids was talking to ABC about doing a talk show following ‘Nightline.’ Up to today, I thought he was pulling my leg.”