NEW YORK (Reuters) - ABC on Tuesday rolled out a fall television schedule featuring just two new programs, one a traveling game show and the other a detective drama based on a popular British series, underscoring the lasting impact of a 14-week strike by screenwriters.
In contrast to a year ago, when ABC announced plans for a broad slate of 12 new television shows, the network has decided to bring back nearly all of its 2007-2008 comedies, dramas and reality series for next season.
Along with the modest prime-time schedule changes, Walt Disney Co's ABC announced a new audience measurement tool for advertisers that allows them to select shows based on a host of criteria, including viewer education or income.
ABC's head of advertising sales, Mike Shaw, described the current system of audience measurement based on broad viewership numbers as "oversimplified" and said the new data would allow advertisers to "take a deeper dive into the audience."
"Not one marketing dollar can be wasted this year," he said, referring to how closely advertisers are watching their budgets amid the economic slowdown.
Meanwhile, ABC's fall schedule is far less ambitious than usual, reflecting a development season cut short by the screenwriters' strike against major TV and movie studios. A deal between the sides ended the strike in February, too late for the normal number of pilots to be written and shot.
ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson said he was pleased with how the network's prime-time shows were performing prior to last fall's strike and wanted more time to develop new shows before making changes to the schedule. ABC's most popular shows include "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives" and "Ugly Betty."
"The big fact that you have to take away from where we are is this is an incredibly stable schedule," he told a news conference. "If you needed a ton of development for the fall schedule the strike would have been a really bad fact."
Based on a BBC series, "Life on Mars" is the lone new scripted show picked up by ABC for the upcoming fall season. It follows police detective Sam Tyler who finds himself transported from modern day back to the early 1970s after a car crash.
Under his mysterious new circumstances, he picks up where he left off before the accident, working as a detective on the police force.
The second show rolled out by ABC, "Opportunity Knocks," is game show produced by "That '70s Show" star Ashton Kutcher in which a TV crew shows up at a new house each week to test the family on how well they know one another.
Midseason, ABC will introduce "The Goode Family," an animated series from Mike Judge, creator of "King of the Hill"; "Scrubs," a long-running comedy that moved over from rival network NBC; and a reality show from Kutcher and model Tyra Banks.
McPherson said ABC also would press ahead with development plans for more new shows that could be launched at midseason, when the network will bring back its hit castaway thriller "Lost."
But he made no secret of the pressure the TV industry faces when programming returns next fall, after another season of sharp ratings declines. "The fall is a very big challenge for all the networks," he said. "We all need to come back and launch in a big way."
Sales and marketing head Shaw said it was too early to predict how negotiations with advertisers would progress after all the major networks unveil their 2008-09 prime-time lineups this week.
Asked about the impact of the economy on spending by advertisers during the so-called "upfront" period, Shaw said marketers would do well to keep spending rather than lose brand recognition and customers during a downturn.
"It's much wiser to maintain share," he said.