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ABC Family Grills Up a Summer Slate

4/03/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

Looking to capitalize on its second most-viewed period, ABC Family will bow a diverse original programming slate this summer, encompassing two movies, two reality shows — and the network’s first two scripted dramas.

The Disney ABC Cable Networks Group outlet announced its slate on the heels of a strong first quarter: It scored a 13% rise in household ratings, to a 0.9 average; a 13% jump in viewers, to 1.07 million; and a 25% gain to a 0.5 mark against adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Galaxy Explorer data.

NET LOVES SUMMER

ABC Family president Paul Lee expects that momentum to continue into the warmer months ahead.

“Families are home enjoying the good weather and more viewers come to our network,” he said. “Summer trails only our '25 Days of Christmas’ [holiday stunt] as our highest-rated period. We want to offer programming that carries us throughout the season and is reflective of today’s families, book-ended by our first two dramas.”

The first drama out of the gate is Wildfire, starring Genevieve Cortese as 18-year-old Kris Furillo who, after serving time in a detention center, is a given an opportunity to pursue her passion and talent with horses.

The series, which starts out with a two-hour movie before moving to 11 one-hour episodes, centers on the young woman’s efforts to fit in with and meet expectations of the family ranch owners who gave her a chance as they battle to keep the ranch financially afloat.

”It’s about a clash of cultures. We think it will resonate with our 18-to-34 target,” said Lee, who is currently looking to schedule the series on Monday nights.

Coming to grips in new environs is also at the heart of limited series Beautiful People, in which the Kerr family moves from a quiet town in New Mexico to Manhattan, where one of two daughters receives a scholarship to a prestigious school. The show, which stars Daphne Zuniga (Melrose Place, The Sure Thing) as the mother, tracks the transitional period of these three women’s lives.

The net’s first new reality series this summer takes a look at tennis superstar siblings Serena and Venus Williams, whom Lee said pitched ABC Family on the show. While the six episodes (starting in July) will document some of their on-court exploits, it principally aims to capture the coming-of-age issues confronting the sisters, their family, friends and posses.

“They engage in incredible banter of ideas as only sisters who are really close can,” said Lee.

The other reality show will showcase what it’s like for four kids going to college at Drexel University, where this rite of passage is complicated somewhat by having their parents move in on campus.

“This is like Rodney Dangerfield in the [theatrical comedy] Back to School,” said Lee, noting that eight half hours are being produced by Endemol (of Big Brother fame).

AN UPDATED 'ROMEO’

On the movie beat, ABC Family in July will present a modern-day version of Romeo and Juliet, set in Verona, N.J., where the family feud between the Prestolanis and Montebellos has migrated from the old country, but still involves who makes the best pizza.

Michael Badalucco and Shiri Appleby (of ABC Family’s Everything You Want, premiering April 17) play the young lovers.

And in August, Campus Confidential finds transplanted urbanite Violet confronting the differences she encounters with teachers and the popular set at her new suburban school. She starts a school tabloid exposing student secrets, only to find that her computer is mightier than the sword and must try to heal deep wounds it has cut.

“Our movies have taken hold with viewers, as part of tent-pole events like '25 Days’ or '13 Days of Halloween’ or in their own right. As more viewers come from cable from broadcast, we must continue to make ABC Family a destination with original movies and series,” Lee said.

September