Groping for a way to establish new dramas, ABC executives said Thursday they will borrow a page from HBO in giving some of its series limited runs.ABC, generally the third-place network behind CBS and NBC this year, has had moderate success with family-oriented comedies. But all of its new dramas since “Alias” in 2001 have failed.
“We are as bollixed by this whole issue of why we can’t get traction with dramas as anybody else,” said Susan Lyne, ABC entertainment president. “We’re looking at different kinds of programming models and taking lessons from successful shows.”
HBO has run such shows as “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under” for stretches like 13 weeks in a row, then they go off the air for another year. Broadcasters usually have a 22-week season, plus repeats.
ABC will try limited-run dramas in the next few months about a Los Angeles district attorney, and a haunted hospital, the latter created by Stephen King. The failed “Karen Sisco” will return in March to air just four weeks.
Broadcasters are vexed by the failure of dramas, particularly serials, to generate ratings in repeats. But they usually have to run series episodes more than once to recoup the costs of making them.
ABC will look to sell some of their series so they can be rerun on cable channels, said Lloyd Braun, ABC entertainment chairman.
Part of ABC’s problem may be the edgy tone of their dramas don’t mix well with the family comedies. Braun said ABC will try something different with the drama development, but he couldn’t explain what that will be.
He said he’s read the scripts of some good cop, lawyer and doctor dramas, but he had a hard time finishing them.
“I would get 10 pages in and my eyes would roll back in my head,” he said. “It would be, ‘Oh, my God. I can’t look at another one of these things.’ I have to believe that the viewers are starting to feel the same way.”
Even so, one of the pilots ABC executives said they were ordering — “43 Minutes,” about a SWAT team’s actions played out in real time — seemed awfully reminiscent of Fox’s “24.”