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James Hibberd



How ABC's Private Practices Helped Derail a Spin-Off's Buzz

September 12, 2007 12:02 PM

For awhile there, ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” spin-off “Private Practice” was widely assumed to become the biggest slam-dunk new hit of the fall season. But while excitement for shows such as NBC’s “Bionic Woman” and ABC’s own “Pushing Daisies” has grown exponentially this summer, the buzz on “Practice” has veered off course.

The backdoor “Private” pilot that aired in May as part of a two-hour “Grey’s” episode was a disastrously haphazard outing that caused critics and fans to slam the promising concept with surprising vehemence. After, the upcoming “Private” series premiere was re-cast, shot, then re-shot. The result (an episode that arrived in critics mailboxes earlier this week), is a premiere episode that’s firmly better than the May introduction and more successfully captures the “Grey’s” sense of humor. The most despised elements of the backdoor pilot (the talking elevator, women fawning over a young staffer) are gone. What weaknesses remain, ABC hopes to address in future episodes. One source noted that “Grey’s” and “Brothers and Sisters” started out shaky, then successfully course-corrected, and that ABC plans the same ongoing fine-tuning for “Private.”

Outside the network, the sour taste of the May effort has partly lingered because, unlike most fall first-year dramas, until very recently ABC hasn’t had a completed “Private” premiere episode for critics and industry insiders to view. The show’s launch is coming up fast on Sept. 26 and hardly anybody has seen the show (including most ABC employees, who are typically treated to premiere-episode screenings of new programs).

Also, ABC elected to put the bulk of its marketing efforts behind tough-sell shows like “Daises,” “Dirty Sexy Money” and “Cavemen” rather than their once-perceived fall flagship debut. The network figures “Private” already has a built-in audience, the show doesn’t need added publicity and their Disney Dollars are better spent on pushing fresh concepts. Just as “Private” is sort of a returning series, sort of a new series, this reasoning sort of works, sort of doesn’t.

“Private” doesn’t need more publicity – the series is currently gracing the cover of Entertainment Weekly’s fall preview issue -- but it does need positive publicity that restores viewer confidence in the show. It’s two weeks until “Private” premieres in an insanely competitive time slot against “Bionic Woman” and viewers still associate the spin-off with their least favorite “Grey’s” episode. Given the potential to clone “Grey’s” massive success, and given ABC has to overturn rocks to find anybody who liked the May preview … one would think taking more steps to convince viewers that “Private” represents an exciting and improved major television event would be a priority.

On ABC’s side: The latest data from research firm OTX that measures viewer intent to watch new fall shows, has “Private” tying two other programs for second place.

The only catch: In first place is “Bionic.”

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