LOS ANGELES -- ABC Entertainment president Brandon Stoddard, still downplaying his network's chances to escape the primetime basement this season, nevertheless Saturday laid out the strategy he'll use to try to sneak by CBS for a second-place finish in mid-April ...

Guaranteed big audiences for the Super Bowl Jan. 31 and presumably for the Winter Olympics Feb. 13-28 seem certain to raise ABC into second going into the last six weeks of the so-called regular season ... It's how Stoddard bolsters his now-weak regular season schedule beyond that, however, that will determine which of the networks gets to finish behind NBC for 1987-88 ...

Saturday he told visiting TV writers that as many as eight new series will get limited tryouts (perhaps six episodes each) on the network between now and mid-April, ostensibly to test them for the fall 1988 season but actually to finesse CBS for the rest of the year ...

Stoddard, who recently completed a major shuffle of series already in place ("Dolly" goes to Saturday night this weekend, for instance), said that most of the series to be preempted by the limited tryout runs will return to the air later this spring -- for a while at least ...

Four of the replacement series have been seen by critics here this past week. All four seem to be gambles, but none is as bad as some of the primetime shows ("Buck James" and "The Charmings" leap to mind) now on the ABC schedule ...

Two seen here were exercises in painful nostalgia: "China Beach," which deals with three American women in late '60s Vietnam, and "The Wonder Years," a "dramedy" depicting the angst of a 12-year-old boy entering junior high in traumatic 1968 ...

Mike Nichols' "The Thorns" is as close to a drawing room comedy as primetime TV probably gets. The only truly sophisticated note in the half-hour, which is intended as a biting satire of the "Me" generation, is the Dorothy Loudon-sung theme song as a Manhattan PR man, his avaricious wife and their three terrible children grasp at everything and anybody in sight (Dad, played by Tony Roberts, and the teen-age boy both lust after an au pair girl, Mom and her interior decorator run upstairs within the first five minutes of the pilot) ...

Marred by a laugh track and Roberts' unfortunate and I suspect unwitting tendency to parody Richard Nixon, this is oddly unpleasant but certainly different. But Noel Coward it ain't ...

A fourth series, called "Just in Time," features Tim Matheson (who seems to have stumbled onto Dick Clark's cache of Youth Pills) as the new editor of a weekly magazine, who will fight weekly with an attractive columnist ... TV does a lousy job writing about the media and we suspect the general viewer doesn't find the media all that fascinating ... but TV continues to try, and at least Matheson is pleasant to watch -- for a couple of minutes at a stretch, anyway ...

Also in the works for this spring: "Super Carrier," about the crew and pilots on a U.S. aircraft carrier (which sounds like a ripoff of "Top Gun"), and the previously announced "Juarez," the story of an El Paso, Tex., sheriff's deputy and his problems ...

Also in the News

In reviewing the season so far, Stoddard pointed out that his new series, such as "Hooperman" and " 'Slap' Maxwell," have done better in the ratings than any new shows on either CBS or NBC ...

He admitted that "'Slap' Maxwell" has proved so far to be unpopular with the important female audience ... Among the quick fixes in the near future for Slap: a journey to Texas, where Dabney Coleman renews a friendship for three episodes with Shirley Jones, his teen-age sweetheart, which should prove, says Stoddard, that Slap is "vulnerable" ...

Stoddard held out hope -- if that's the word -- that "Dynasty" will return for another season but pointed out that a lot of contracts are up this spring and that could mean the defection of many of the so-called "stars" from the tired series ...

Unlike NBC Entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff, Stoddard defended "dramedies" (such as "Molly Dodd," "Frank's Place" and "Hooperman") ... but admitted the form "is more difficult to watch; you have to figure out how to watch one of them" ...

Tartikoff suggested earlier last week that dramedies are the work of comedy writers who have either run out of jokes or can't write one-hour dramas ...

Of interest to Washington viewers: Stoddard said a first draft of David Milch's "Power House" series "looks good" and he's "very pleased with it." A second draft is due this week, and a Stoddard aide said later that "we're quite excited about it" as a definite possibility for the fall ...

"Power House" is about a dynamite Washington PR firm, and "Hill Street Blues' " Milch has an ensemble cast approach in mind for the series that could prove fascinating -- for local viewers anyway ...

Potpourri

We hear that Steve Friedman, executive producer of the syndicated "USA Today" magazine, has picked three of his four anchors but is withholding announcement of the names until the fourth has been chosen.

Basic reason: The three chosen so far are not big enough names to make a splash if announced piecemeal ...

The weeknight primetime access series, based on the national newspaper's successful format, has sold in 72 markets so far but is still missing outlets in New York and Chicago ... Deals to air it on NBC or Fox stations in major markets didn't jell ...

Paramount has prepared a 10-hour miniseries from Francis Coppola's "The Godfather" movies, bolstered by film not included in the originals, which will air in syndication during the November sweeps this year (part of the deal: One segment of the miniseries must air on election night) ...

Reports out here have Channel 5 picking up the potential blockbuster (except election night) in Washington ...

NBC News' strategy of moving "Sunday Today" up to a 9 a.m. start as of Jan. 3 in Washington, New York and Chicago showed some immediate payoffs ...

All three markets showed a big increase, and the national rating went up from a 1.5 Nielsen average and a 10 percent audience share Dec. 27 to a 1.9/12 the next week. On Channel 4 in Washington the program, anchored by Boyd Matson and Maria Shriver, climbed from a 2.1/11 to a 2.7/9 (the share drops because audiences are substantially larger in the later hour) ...

"Sunday Today" is now cleared by 81 percent of the NBC stations around the country ... and the network expects many will move the show up from 8 to 9 a.m. eventually.

"China Beach," ABC's upcoming short-run series about three young women in wartime Vietnam, got the good news Friday -- the two-hour pilot will air on the network right after ABC's coverage of the Super Bowl ends Sunday night, Jan. 31 ...

No regular timeslot for the six-episode drama has been set, but the Super Bowl Sunday kickoff even had author William Broyles Jr., cocreator of the series, gushing that "it's a wonderful privilege" ...

The story of a nurse, a Red Cross worker and an entertainer could easily slip into soap opera if the writers aren't careful, but the pilot has some moments, particularly when Dana Delaney as the nurse and Chloe Webb as the not-very-good singer take over the story ...

Talk on the Coast: Fox Broadcasting hopes to have a replacement for "The Wilton North Report" on the air by Feb. 2 ...

"Report" was canceled as of last Friday after just three bad weeks. Reruns of "The Late Show" with Arsenio Hall are going to fill in for a while. It's expected that some version of "The Late Show" format will be revived in February ...

ABC will carry the 60th annual Academy Awards presentation live on April 11 this year. Chevy Chase will be the male host, the female cohost has yet to be picked ...

ABC has dropped plans to make a miniseries out of James Michener's "Texas." Couldn't find a workable story line in it ...

ABC Entertainment has a program in the works called "Conversations With the Presidents" in which children from 8 to 14 years of age will pose questions for President Reagan and former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford ...

The idea for the documentary came from A.C. Lyles, the creator of "Here's Boomer" ...

Former president Nixon has also been asked to participate, but he reportedly has balked because of the network's plans to make a movie out of the Woodward-Bernstein book "The Final Days" -- about the downfall of the Nixon administration after Watergate ...

Delayed: plans for a "Family" reunion movie on ABC, caused by the inability of Meredith Baxter Birney to get free time. Could be on the agenda next year, says ABC ...

Meanwhile, work continues on a one-hour documentary detailing "an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the life of First Lady Nancy Reagan" ...

The ABC project went on hiatus when Mrs. Reagan was stricken with breast cancer and again when her mother died late last year ...

The retrospective, according to an ABC Entertainment executive, relies heavily on a written journal maintained by Mrs. Reagan during her seven-plus years in the White House ...

"Mrs. Reagan will be sharing the wide range of public activities and personal concerns that fill her days," according to Gary Pudney, vice president and senior executive in charge of specials and talent -- who is also overseeing the "Conversations With the Presidents" special ...