Strike That! Sans Writers, ABC Reshuffles Time Slots for 'Lost,' 'Housewives'

By Lisa de Moraes
Saturday, December 15, 2007

ABC, the last of the Big Four networks to announce its strike scheduling plans, will move "Lost" to Thursdays at 9 p.m. starting Jan. 31, replacing "Grey's Anatomy" -- or, more accurately, "Grey's Anatomy" reruns.

The network's other flagship show, "Desperate Housewives," will be booted from its long-held Sunday 9 p.m. berth to make way for the reality series "Oprah Winfrey's The Big Give."

Again in the interest of accuracy, what ABC is really doing here is trying to protect its lead on Sundays at 9 by removing "Desperate Housewives" repeats, which do lousy numbers, and plugging the hole with the "I'm Oprah and You're Not" show. "DH" reruns will slide to 10 p.m.; ABC has just one original episode left.

"Lost," the surprise hit series that struggled creatively and ratings-wise last season, is taking on what is perhaps the most competitive time slot in all of television. Except that, thanks to striking Hollywood writers, the time slot is being reduced to a matchup of "CSI" reruns on CBS, "C-Listers Apprentice" on NBC and Fox's "Don't Forget the Lyrics." And now, eight original episodes of "Lost."

ABC's Strike Schedule Monday looks pretty much like it would have without the strike: The "Dancing With the Stars" stopgap series, "Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann," will air from 8 to 9:30, followed by "Notes From the Underbelly" and "October Road," which are already in place. Come the February ratings sweeps, by which time the competition show likely will have gained ratings steam, "Dance War" will be down to one hour and "Samantha Who?" slides into the 9 p.m. half-hour.

Then, on March 17, "Dancing With the Stars" will be back at 8, followed at 9:30 p.m. by "Samantha Who?" and another edition of faux couples-making on "The Bachelor" at 10.

On Tuesdays, hidden-camera-for-laughs series "Just for Laughs" will be ABC's sacrifice to Fox's "American Idol" monster at 8 and 8:30 p.m., followed by "According to Jim" and "Carpoolers" at 9 and 9:30 and "Boston Legal" at 10. With the return of "Dancing With the Stars" in March, the results show will follow "Laughs" at 9.

On Wednesdays, ABC is giving its "Sex and the City" clone, "Cashmere Mafia," a one-month jump on NBC's "Sex and the City" clone, "Lipstick Jungle," which isn't debuting until February. "Cashmere" will get the Wednesday 10 p.m. time slot (following a Thursday, Jan. 3, premiere) and ABC's two super-chick reality series -- "Wife Swap" and "Supernanny" -- as its lead-ins.

ABC's CEO comedy "Big Shots" is inexplicably returning to Thursdays at 10 but only until new series "Eli Stone" can take on the time slot in February.

"Eli Stone" is about a lawyer who thinks he's a prophet, which only sounds redundant. In this case, said lawyer keeps hearing the George Michael tune "Faith" in his head, and has a vision of Michael performing the number in his office.

On Friday -- ABC's Saturday -- the network kicks things off with "Drama Encores," followed by "Drama Encores," followed by "20/20."

And, on Sundays, the Oprah show follows "America's Funniest Home Videos" and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

"We have a lot of original programming -- just not the original programming we had intended originally," ABC scheduling guru Jeff Bader said of the strike-impacted lineup. Hollywood writers have been on strike since Nov. 5, causing all the networks to run out of original episodes of their scripted series and forcing them to change their first-quarter programming plans.

* * *

Your late-night rerun nightmare is about to end. Kind of.

An announcement could be made early next week that some late-night shows will return to the air in early January.

With no end in sight for the writers' strike, late-night shows in ratings freefall and hosts footing six-figure (per week) bills to pay their programs' below-the-line staffers while they wait for shooting to resume, the networks have a lot of incentive to get the shows back up and running in some form or another.

(Talks between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers fell apart a week ago, and on Thursday the guild filed a complaint against the producers with the National Labor Relations Board.)

At least one show host already has received the blessing of his writing staff to return to the air.

NBC, the network with the most at stake, is likely to say something about its plans first. Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" last week clocked only about 3.4 million viewers -- a full 3 million less than the same week last year. And Conan O'Brien's show logged a measly 1.5 million viewers, compared with 2.6 million the same week in '06.

That's the price of being in first place -- when you are thrown into reruns, your viewers go away to check out the "new to them" reruns of the competition.

Which may explain why, over at CBS, David Letterman has held up better in repeats; last week his show averaged 3.1 million viewers -- just 300,000 behind Leno -- compared with Letterman's 3.8 million same week last year.

Over at ABC, Jimmy Kimmel's show was actually up compared with the same week a year ago -- 1.8 million and 1.7 million viewers, respectively. Ditto "Nightline," which drew 3.4 million in 2006 and averaged 3.9 million viewers last week -- beating Leno and Letterman. ("Nightline," however, continues to produce new programs, as it is unaffected by the entertainment writers' work stoppage.)

Not surprisingly the scuttlebutt late this week was that NBC would try to get its shows back up and running by Jan. 7, according to trade paper Variety.

For days now, Bill Scheft, a longtime writer for Letterman's "Late Show" and also the Writers Guild of America's strike captain for that program, has been paving the way for a possible Letterman return, telling reporters his writers would not be unhappy if their boss got back on the air.

"I know when and if he comes back, it will be the right thing," he told the Los Angeles Times earlier this week.

"David Letterman, on the air without writers . . . is the greatest ally the writers would ever have, because he would rail nightly."

A couple of days later, Scheft told the New York Post:

"Maybe [Letterman's] greatest potential is as an on-air provocateur."

On the other hand, a returning host risks the wrath of the guild. It vilified Carson Daly when NBC network announced he was returning to the air and, unlike Leno and Letterman and O'Brien, Daly's not even a writers' guild member. Early this week, several striking writers sat in the audience while Daly's show was taping and heckled the host, until security removed them.

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