Big Dose of Reality at ABC
Thu Jan 16, 6:28 AM ET
By Michael Schneider
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - With no sign that the reality craze is diminishing, ABC executives say it's impossible to ignore the red-hot genre.
Speaking Wednesday at the network's portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour, ABC Entertainment TV Group chairman Lloyd Braun also said the network is regaining its ratings footing this season.
"While we're far from satisfied, it's safe to say we delivered on the goals we had for fall," said Braun. "We have a young schedule, which means the best days should still be ahead."
But while Braun and ABC Entertainment president Susan Lyne pointed to the success of new comedies such "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter," they acknowledged that reality -- particularly "The Bachelor" -- was a big part of the network's improved performance.
"There's no way the networks are going to ignore a genre that has this kind of appeal," said Lyne. "Our 18-34 numbers are up across the board, and we credit that to 'The Bachelor' as a promotional platform."
ABC executives have not just tested the waters, they've dived straight in. ABC is airing a whopping six new reality series in midseason. They will air on Wednesday and Thursday nights, where ABC has created two reality "wheels" to showcase the entries.
Currently mired in fifth place on Thursday in adults 18-49, ABC hopes to reverse its fortunes on the night with "Are You Hot: The Search for America's Sexiest People," which bows Thursday, Feb. 13, at 9 p.m.
After "Are You Hot," from executive producer Mike Fleiss, finishes its six-episode run, ABC will turn to a six-episode version of "Extreme Makeover," which bows in the slot April 3.
"Thursday night has been flat-out unacceptable," Braun said. "We're committed to fixing Thursday and having a credible schedule by the end of the season."
As for Wednesday nights, after current entries "The Bachelorette" and "Celebrity Mole: Hawaii" conclude, ABC has the beauty pageant "All American Girl," which bows March 12 at 9 p.m. with a two-hour entry.
"All American Girl" moves to 10 p.m. the following week, with "The Bachelor" returning for a third installment March 26 at 9 p.m.
And now that a federal judge has ruled against CBS' plea to keep ABC's "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!" off the air, the British import (boasting C-level celebs like Robin Leach and Bruce Jenner) will air for 15 consecutive nights starting Wednesday, Feb. 19.
CARE FOR 'BACHELOR'
Still smarting from the demise of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," Braun said he had no idea how long shows like "The Bachelor" would hold on to their mega-audience numbers.
"We've resisted every opportunity to milk those 'Bachelor' arcs," he said. "We're going to be exceedingly careful in not exploiting it. It's impossible to know how long it's going to go."
Braun also said unscripted shows were not the driving force behind ABC's slow climb out of Nielsen hell.
"The success we've had this year has not been on the back of reality," he said.
Brushing off concerns that too much reality may taint ABC's image, Braun said he believed shows like "Extreme Makeover" can co-exist with scripted fare like "The Practice."
"These shows are like ice cream or candy," he said -- a softer version of critics' complaints that the shows serve as addictive crack cocaine for programmers. "They're fun to watch."
When asked whether he's worried that shows like Fox's "Joe Millionaire" would dilute the power of "The Bachelor," Braun said, "We worry about everything."