Wednesday January 15, 7:27 pm ET
By Peter Henderson
LOS ANGELES, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Third-ranked ABC Television hopes that a search for the sexiest people in America plus a show putting minor celebrities in peril will re-energize its turnaround as network executives on Wednesday showcased midseason and summer shows for critics.
By the time fall rolls around, ABC plans to have aired a dozen reality-based shows, including ones featuring a hunt for sexpots, a prime time beauty contest and plastic surgery make-overs, but executives promised to maintain standards at the network known for family entertainment.
"It is a very nice way to heat up a cold time period," Susan Lyne, president of ABC Entertainment Television, told critics as she outlined the network's midseason strategy.
Would-be hunks and babes open competition in "Are You Hot: The Search for America's Sexiest People", from the producers of "The Bachelor" on Thursday, Feb. 13.
"This is a contest where intelligence, achievement have absolutely no bearing, but it will be a very entertaining show," Lyne said with a laugh.
Real people will get tummy tucks and nose jobs free for showing audiences the transformation process in "Extreme Makeover", which will air for six episodes in the same time period beginning on April 3.
'GET ME OUT OF HERE'
ABC will also debut a special reality-based show in the crucial February "sweeps" period, which is key for setting advertising rates: "I'm a Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here" will air 15 nights in a row, beginning on Wed., Feb. 19.
It pits a group of minor celebrities including video jockey "Downtown" Julie Brown and Olympian Bruce Jenner against nature in the Australian outback. The audience can eliminate contestants and the winners take home money for charity.
Ratings at the Walt Disney Co.-owned (NYSE
IS - News) network have improved since the fall with the success of its comedy "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" and reality hit "The Bachelor", but it is still coming from behind, especially on Thursday nights.
That is where the company expects to gain momentum quickly, especially among younger viewers, with two reality shows.
Reality shows -- relatively cheap to produce and easy to promote -- are like crack cocaine for networks, Lyne said. But she and ABC Entertainment Chairman Lloyd Braun said they had avoided mean-spirited shows to maintain quality and would not overdose on the genre.
"You are not going to see a schedule littered with reality," Braun told reporters. "There are shows that we will not do, and you sort of know them when you see them. But I absolutely believe a show like 'Extreme Makeover' can coexist with "The Practice", he added referring to the hit legal drama.
REALITY AND DRAMA
ABC has a history of family shows, such as "Happy Days," "Roseanne" and "Home Improvement", and executives last year had hoped to ride that wave again as they righted the network, which had fallen to third place behinds CBS and NBC.
This season's "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" followed the family-oriented trend, and ABC will debut situation comedy "Regular Joe", starring Daniel Stern as a single parent, at a still-to-be-decided date.
More traditional dramas also are in store, such as an updated version of the classic crime drama "Dragnet," starring "Married With Children" star Ed O'Neill as police detective Joe Friday. It begins on Feb. 2.
"Veritas: The Quest", a father-and-son archeological thriller, and the supernatural thriller "Miracles" both premier on Jan. 27.
But ABC has had a taste of reality-show success with the new franchise "The Bachelor", which follows a young man choosing a mate from a bevy of female contenders, winnowing the field each week. The follow-up "Bachelorette" has proved to be a smash, too, and the next Bachelor edition begins March 26.
Critics pressed the ABC executives to defend the taste and volume of new reality shows, such as "Are You Hot" and "All American Girl," a beauty-pageant-style show which debuts Wednesday, March 19 at 9 p.m. ET.
"'All American Woman' doesn't have the same ring," Lyne joked. But she said the show would test all aspects of contestants' characters. "Whoever ends up winning it, I would put against any man in the country," she said.
So many choices, so little time, and only 6 tuners from my 3 Directivo's.