ABC's Thursday Cure: More Reality, of Course


ABC, which has seen a renaissance on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, told critics at the winter press tour in Hollywood last week that it plans to use a heavy dose of reality to attract viewers to its Thursday night. Who would have guessed?

The fact is, right now, it has its own kind of reality there: It ranks fifth of six networks on that hotly competitive night, struggling to be seen at all, while NBC shows Friends
and CBS airs Survivor
and CSI.

ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun and ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne know that reality can be a quick fix.

"We are well aware that our performance on Thursdays has been unacceptable," Braun said. "If we just show up on Thursday nights, that will make a great story."

ABC will air six episodes of reality series Are You Hot?: The Search for America's Sexiest People, starting Thursday, Feb. 13, at 9 p.m. ET. The show—from The Bachelor
executive producer Mike Fleiss—features men and women competing before a panel of judges for the title of "sexiest person in America."

"This is a contest where intelligence and achievement have absolutely no bearing," quipped Lyne.

ABC will also air six more episodes of Extreme Makeover
starting Thursday, April 3, at 9 p.m. The show, produced by Lighthearted Entertainment, premiered to strong ratings in December.

"Well executed original reality series such as Are You Hot?
and Extreme Makeover
can help to heat up cold time periods and recruit and hold younger viewers—two things we need to accomplish on Thursdays," Lyne said.

ABC also plans to keep Wednesdays at 9 p.m. occupied with reality in an attempt to maintain the success of The Bachelor
franchise in that slot.

On March 12, the network will air the two-hour debut of All American Girl
at 9 p.m., with the remaining 11 episodes airing at 10 p.m. The show is executive-produced by Simon Fuller and Nigel Lythgoe, who also executive-produce Fox's American Idol: Search for a Superstar.

Now that a Manhattan judge has ruled that I'm a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!
does not violate any copyright laws, ABC is going ahead with plans to air 15 consecutive episodes during February sweeps starting Feb. 19, at 10 p.m., and finishing with a two-hour episode March 5, at 9 p.m.

ABC will also air the third installment of The Bachelor
starting Wednesday, March 26, at 9 p.m.

"The Bachelor
in this edition will be the real deal," ABC said. "Aside from having looks and charm, he also is the son of one of America's most affluent and prominent families."

Successful reality-show franchises are becoming as expensive as dramas to produce, Braun said, because executive producers are demanding higher license fees.

What's more, reality producers don't accept deficit financing, so networks have to cover upfront the entire cost of the show. And the shows don't repeat other than as repurposed vehicles on co-owned cable networks.

And, apparently, none of the networks have any problem coming up with more reality shows.

The WB has two reality shows on the air, another coming this summer and one more in development. CBS hopes to expand Star Search
into an ongoing franchise and will air dating/reality show Cupid
this summer. And UPN will launch America's Next Top Model, executive-produced by supermodel Tyra Banks, this spring.

NBC and Fox weren't addressing the press until last Friday and Saturday, too late for deadline, but both networks have plenty of reality shows in the pipeline. NBC has put summer hit Meet My Folks
back on the schedule for February sweeps and plans to air Last Comic Standing
and Next Action Star
in spring and summer. And, never shy with reality programming, News Corp.-owned Fox is basking in the success of Joe Millionaire, it has smash hit American Idol
coming next week, several reality-based specials waiting in the wings, and Married By America
on tap.

While The WB has had arguably the best year in its eight-year history with scripted programming, the network does plan some reality shows. This summer, the network will air North Shore, about surfers trying to capture a surfing championship in Hawaii. And the network also is developing a remake of The Gong Show.

The WB President of Entertainment Jordan Levin agrees with Braun that the economics of reality programming aren't what they once were. "You oftentimes cannot repeat the programming. The demand for reality programming has driven the pricing up. So your cost across the amortization of scripted programming compared to one episode of reality programming oftentimes levels itself out. At the same time," he adds, "I think you have to consider the revenue that you're bringing in from advertising.

"You look at certain shows and look at the advertising that's on those shows and you start to recognize that, even with a big hit, you're not filling all of your slots with premium advertising. You're still getting a reduction."