The slim offerings are a direct result of the writers’ strike, which brought the industry to a standstill for 100 days last fall at the height of the development season.
With a dearth of new pilots to vet with test audiences, ABC is taking a conservative approach, holding off on episode orders where other networks -- notably NBC -- have ordered shows with nothing but scripts in hand.
“We really don’t feel comfortable picking [shows] up until they’ve been fully piloted and tested,” said Steve McPherson, entertainment chief at ABC.
Life on Mars is a remake of a British drama about a cop who gets transported back to the 1970s, where he must not only adjust to the garish fashion of the period, but also the less-than-scientific police work. The show gained a loyal cult following in this country when it aired on BBC America.
David E. Kelley is an executive producer of the show, but he will not have day-to-day oversight. Rather, he will be occupied with the final season of Boston Legal.
Opportunity Knocks is a traveling game show that gives unsuspecting families the opportunity to win big prizes when host J.D. Roth -- with a semi loaded with prizes in tow -- knocks on their front door.
Opportunity Knocks will air Tuesdays at 8 p.m. leading into Dancing with the Stars. And Life on Mars will get the plum post-Grey’s Anatomy slot Thursdays at 10 p.m.
The lack of new programs is a departure for a network that for the past handful of seasons has ordered more series than its broadcast competitors.
NBC announced four new shows for the fall season last month during an early upfront presentation to advertisers and the media. And CBS is expected to announce that it is picking up six new shows during its upfront presentation Wednesday.
With the addition of midseason series The Goode Family, an animated comedy from King of the Hill creator Mike Judge; 18 new episodes of Scrubs, which moves from NBC; and a beauty-pageant reality series co-produced by Kutcher and Tyra Banks, ABC’s 2008-09 order comes to five.
Shows not returning next season include Cashmere Mafia, Men in Trees, Carpoolers and Cavemen. Oprah’s Big Give will also not get a second season -- a decision made by Winfrey, McPherson said.
McPherson acknowledged that tepid post-strike ratings for many shows across all networks this spring were a concern, and ABC will spend more promotional muscle (but not necessarily more cash) on returning shows this summer.
The move from NBC to ABC for Scrubs will test the comedy’s staying power after several seasons of, McPherson inferred, less-than-stellar treatment on NBC. “It’s been in 17 time periods and they never promoted it,” he added. “It’s a great opportunity for us.”
At NBC’s upfront last month, Ben Silverman, the network’s co-chief of entertainment, said he was not concerned about Scrubs -- which is produced at ABC Studios -- moving to ABC and pointedly noted the network’s bleak success/failure ratio in comedy.
“I look forward to competing against him,” McPherson said.
“For us, a huge priority was to get a comedy last year,” he added referring to the Christina Applegate sitcom Samantha Who?. “I don’t [think] sitcoms are dead. I just don’t think there have been great voices behind [many comedies].”
McPherson danced around several hypothetical questions about the possibility of Jay Leno landing at ABC.
“I’m really interested to see what happens to NBC late-night when he leaves, and it will be interesting to see what his next move is,” he said. “He’s still the No. 1 late-night talk-show host, so I think it’s an odd time for him to be leaving someplace. I think he’s in a good position.”
When asked if ABC would like to add another personality to its late-night franchise -- which, of course, already includes Jimmy Kimmel -- McPherson took the opportunity to praise Kimmel’s ascension, ratings-wise and on the cool-meter.
“Jimmy is firing on all cylinders,” he said. “I think any conversation that would go on about Leno would be with Jimmy completely. And at this point, we have no plans. But it would be completely transparent with Jimmy. I think he’s the hippest late-night host right now. He’s beating the other hosts on certain nights. We love him.”
ABC’s fall primetime schedule -- all times EST -- is as follows:
8 p.m.: Dancing with the Stars
9:30 p.m.: Samantha Who?
10 p.m.: Boston Legal
8 p.m.: Opportunity Knocks
9: p.m.: Dancing with the Stars the Results Show
10: p.m.: Eli Stone
8 p.m.: Pushing Daisies
9 p.m.: Private Practice
10 p.m.: Dirty Sexy Money
8 p.m.: Ugly Betty
9 p.m.: Grey’s Anatomy
• 10 p.m.: Life on Mars
8 p.m.: Wife Swap
9 p.m.: Supernanny
10 p.m.: 20/20
8 p.m.: Saturday Night College Football
7 p.m.: America’s Funniest Home Videos
8 p.m.: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
9 p.m.: Desperate Housewives
10 p.m.: Brothers & Sisters
For complete coverage of the upfronts, click here.