NEW YORK – ABC scheduled its "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff for Wednesdays and committed to a comedy derived from the Geico "Cavemen" commercials as part of an ambitious schedule with eight new series for the fall and 11 overall.
The third-place network lost an average of a million viewers in prime-time from last season, many attributable to the end of "Monday Night Football." With bankable hits "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives" and "Dancing With the Stars" returning, ABC is giving viewers plenty of new choices in the fall.
That approach contrasts with fourth-place NBC, which is introducing half as many new series under the theory that it's tough to market so many new shows.
The most anticipated new ABC series is "Private Practice," which takes Dr. Addison Shepard (Kate Walsh) from Seattle and moves her to Los Angeles. A special "Grey's Anatomy" that served as the show's pilot was seen by 21 million people earlier this month. The new series will air Wednesdays at 9 p.m., part of a night with all-new programming.
Despite the high hopes, ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson indicated Tuesday that creator Shonda Rhimes has work ahead of her.
In the pilot, he said, "we spent a lot of time introducing the characters and not enough time introducing the stories."
"Cavemen" takes the commercial characters and sets them up in Atlanta, trying to live like normal guys in their 30s. The series pokes fun at the normally serious topic of racial attitudes, but since they're cavemen "it gives you kind of the ability to offend everybody but offend no one," McPherson said.
The pilot has already gotten some poor word-of-mouth, but McPherson urged caution. Out of 17 drama pilots ABC tested before audiences last season, eventual hit "Ugly Betty" did worse than all but one, he said.
After serial dramas on dark topics failed last season, ABC leaned more toward series that don't need an intense commitment to follow. Lighter, fantasy-oriented topics are also evident, with series on a lawyer with visions, a man who can bring dead people to life and ambitious executives.
"People didn't show up for these shows (last year)," McPherson said. "It wasn't a matter of seeing a show and rejecting it. People didn't show up. So we listened to that."
The network canceled the comedies "George Lopez," "Help Me Help You" and "Knights of Prosperity." "What About Brian" did not make the cut, and ABC is still debating the future of "According to Jim," while leaving it off the fall schedule.
The cancellation angered Lopez, who complained in the Los Angeles Times that his comedy about a Latino family is being dumped in favor of cavemen.
"TV just became really, really white again," Lopez said.
The first prime-time series from Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions, "Oprah's Big Give," will debut in midseason. It's a reality series where contestants compete in philanthropy.
In contrast to last year, when "Grey's Anatomy" made its successful switch to Thursday nights, ABC plans no major shifts of its existing series. "Men in Trees" moves to an earlier time slot on Friday nights.
"Lost" will return in midseason, but ABC made no time slot commitment.
Other new series that ABC plans for next season:
—"Pushing Daisies," a "forensic fairy tale" about a young man who can bring dead people to life with his touch. He does that for his childhood sweetheart, only to learn that if he touches her again, she's dead for good.
—"Dirty Sexy Money," a trashy prime-time soap about the venal Darling family of New York. Family members include Donald Sutherland, William Baldwin and Jill Clayburgh.
—"Big Shots," a drama about four hard-charging friends and CEOs who are less successful with women. Dylan McDermott, Christopher Titus, Joshua Malina and Michael Vartan play the lead characters.
—"Cashmere Mafia," ABC's attempt to inherit the "Sex and the City" mantle. Four women, friends since business school, juggle their personal and professional lives in New York. NBC has a similar new show with three women. ABC's show has Lucy Liu; NBC's has Brooke Shields.
—"Sam I Am," a comedy with Christina Applegate about a woman who awakes from a coma with no memory, only to find out she was a creep before.
—"Eli Stone," a drama about a top lawyer in San Francisco who begins having visions because of a brain aneurysm, only to find his firm has a bunch of creeps.
—"Women's Murder Club," a drama, is also set in San Francisco. Based on James Patterson novels, it's about four crime-fighting women — a detective, district attorney, medical examiner and reporter.
—"Carpoolers," a comedy about four men from different backgrounds who get together each day for some male bonding on the drive to work.
—"Miss/Guided," a comedy about a former high school geek who returns to her alma mater as a guidance counselor, only to see an ex-cheerleader and former nemesis come back as an English teacher.