Ted Danson, Taye Diggs, Calista Flockhart, Anne Heche, David Arquette and Rachel Griffiths are among the stars that will appear in new ABC series, the network announced Tuesday.
ABC also left the newsmagazine "Primetime" off its fall schedule for the first time since its introduction in 1989. But ABC News said "Primetime" will remain in production for specials, limited-run series and perhaps as a replacement for a failed entertainment program.
ABC is the only one of the major networks to increase its ratings over last year on the strength of hits "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost." But the rest of its schedule was weak, forcing the network to make an uncommonly large number of pilots.
The risk in introducing so many new shows is that viewers will be overwhelmed and some series will get lost in the shuffle. But Steve McPherson, ABC entertainment president, said the network will strategically try to introduce the new series at different times.
"Yes, it's aggressive, absolutely," he said. "But it's all about how much you believe in your development."
ABC, which is owned by The Walt Disney Co., was the second major broadcast network to unveil its plans before advertisers, following NBC (part of NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co.) on Monday. My Network TV, a new network created to fill the slot left by the soon-to-be-defunct UPN, also said Tuesday that it will begin Sept. 5 with a prime-time lineup of telenovelas remade for an English-speaking audience.
ABC's move of "Grey's Anatomy" from Sundays was done to help launch new series by pairing them with hits; the medical soap initially became a success because the "Desperate Housewives" audience stuck around to sample it. ABC has also done very poorly in the ratings on Thursdays, an important night for advertisers.
Switching "Grey's Anatomy" to 9 p.m. Thursdays sets up a battle with one of TV's most popular shows: "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" on CBS (a division of CBS Corp.) and NBC's most-touted new series, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."
"There's a lot of history of big shows going up against one another and there's plenty of room for both," McPherson said.
"Two years ago this network was left for dead," he said. "Today, we're not only alive and kicking, we're competing for leadership."
McPherson also drew louder applause — a standing ovation, even — than highlights of any of his new shows by performing a slick ballroom dance routine onstage at Lincoln Center. It was the payoff of a bet he lost to Jimmy Kimmel over which contestant on "Dancing With the Stars" would be voted off first.
ABC canceled "Commander in Chief," leaving Geena Davis as a one-year president, although a two-hour movie may be made with the same cast. "Invasion," "Hope & Faith," "Jake in Progress" and "Sons and Daughters" were among the other shows left off the schedule.
One surprise returnee was the low-rated relationship drama "What About Brian." McPherson said he's received a lot of mail from fans interested in the show.
Partly in response to complaints by "Lost" fans frustrated when the serial was interrupted by reruns, ABC said it would run the series in sequence next year. Seven new episodes will air in the fall, then "Lost" will be replaced by "Day Break," a thriller starring Diggs that has elements of "Groundhog Day."
"Lost" will return next winter and run all originals until the end of the season.
Among ABC's new comedies is "Let's Rob ...," which features a group of small-time thieves who dream of stealing from a celebrity. Mick Jagger filled that role in the pilot episode.
ABC's other new series:
ABC will also offer reality series with Greg Behrendt, the author of "He's Just Not That Into You," offering relationship advice; "Just For Laughs," a hidden-camera series; and "Set for the Rest of Your Life," a game show reminiscent of "Deal or No Deal."
By David Bauder