ABC overhauls prime-time TV lineup

Tue May 19, 2009 3:44pm EDT
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By Paul Thomasch

NEW YORK (Reuters) - ABC is betting on new comedies and veteran television stars in making over its 2009-10 prime-time schedule, which will feature 11 new shows next season.

The changes, announced at ABC on Tuesday, are the most dramatic yet by a broadcast network during this year's upfront, a period each spring when the networks set new prime-time schedules and advertisers pay billions of dollars for commercial time.

Competing broadcast network NBC also unveiled its new schedule on Tuesday, although it had already given a preview of its shows to the press and advertisers earlier in the month.

Still, NBC added some surprise to the day in renewing two shows thought to be at risk. The comedy "Chuck" will return after a sponsorship deal was struck with Subway restaurants, and "Law & Order" will return for its 20th season, tying it with "Gunsmoke" as the longest running drama series in prime time.

At Walt Disney Co's ABC, the talk centered more on new shows than returning ones. Executives decided to completely replace the prime-time lineup on Wednesday nights this fall, the sort of overhaul that networks sometimes attempt but often fail to pull off.

"Any time you launch even two new shows together it's a challenge," ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson told reporters on Tuesday. "But we think our chances are good."

"Hank" stars Kelsey Grammer -- who played the title role in NBC's "Frasier" for 11 seasons -- as an industry bigwig who loses his job.

"The Middle" tells the story of a suburban family and features Emmy-winner Patricia Heaton. "Modern Family" is another family comedy, but told in a documentary style, and "Cougar Town" stars Courteney Cox of "Friends" fame as a recently divorced single mother.   Continued...

<p>Kelsey Grammer attends the unveiling of the new "The Simpsons" U.S. postage stamps in Los Angeles May 7, 2009. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>