Upfront sunny for ABC Family

Net eyes original programming for continued ratings growth

ABC Family is sailing into upfront season on a wave of ratings growth, having closed out the first quarter of 2009 with its best showing among all of its top demos. In order to sustain its momentum, the network is going to continue to place a premium on original programming, said ABC Family president Paul Lee, who addressed media buyers at a Tuesday afternoon upfront luncheon in Manhattan.

The millennial-targeted net will bow three new series this summer, including the drama "Make It or Break It," which is set against the backdrop of competitive gymnastics; and a pair of comedies in the high-school confidential strip "10 Things I Hate About You" and the music-driven sitcom "Ruby & the Rockits."

At first blush, the one-hour "Make It or Break It" is somewhat reminiscent of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding psychodrama of 1994, inasmuch as it pits a hardworking brunette "good girl" (Chelsea Hobbs) against a scheming, nefarious blonde (Ayla Kell). Bowing June 22, immediately following the season premiere of "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," "Make It or Break It" also stars Peri Gilpin (Frasier) and Candace Cameron Bure (Full House).

Based on the theatrical of the same name -- the 1999 rom-com was itself spun off Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" -- the single-camera comedy "10 Things I Hate About You" premieres July 7. Two weeks after "10 Things" arrives, the half-hour musical comedy "Ruby & the Rockits" will begin leading out of it in the Tuesday 8:30 p.m. time slot. "Ruby" stars former Partridge Family frontman David Cassidy and was scripted by brother Shawn Cassidy, aka Joe Hardy.

In August, ABC Family will prime its latest programming stunt, taking the wraps off its 10-day Campus Crush event. From August 1-10, the net will run scholastic-themed movies like "Legally Blondes," an identical-twins spinoff of the Reese Witherspoon franchise. (Picture Elle Woods getting the Patty Duke treatment and you're about halfway there.) "We're looking to build this into the perfect back-to-school tentpole for millennial viewers and adults," Lee said.

The net also hopes to get a lift in July when it debuts "Labor Pains," starring Lindsay Lohan as a publishing assistant who feigns pregnancy in order to keep her job. The film unspools July 19.

All of this development is building on the strength of another prenatal project, "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," which last month closed out its freshman season as ABC Family's most-watched series ever, averaging 3.9 million viewers and outdrawing the CW's "Gossip Girl" in the Monday 8 p.m. slot. (The March 23 finale of "Secret Life" drew 4.5 million viewers and 2.4 million females 12-34.)

" 'Secret Life' literally transformed the network ... And "American Idol" is the only show on TV that brings in more millennials," Lee said, referring to ABC Family's core 12-24 demo. The show returns for its second trimester on June 22.

Also coming back this summer are the original drama series "Lincoln Heights" (August 4) and "Greek" (Sept. 14).

As ABC Family's core audience toggles between on-air and online media, the net's ad sales team is working to make its streaming video more salable. Executive vp ad sales Laura Nathanson told buyers that her team has developed "The Super Spot," a multiplatform opportunity that allows clients to purchase time on the linear network and on ABCFamily.com at one negotiation point, thereby taking some of the heavy lifting out of a sometimes complicated buy.

On-air promos direct viewers to online creative, which is particularly valuable because it's housed in an uncluttered environment.

According to Nielsen ratings data, ABC Family enjoyed its best quarter ever in Q1 '09, averaging 1.41 million primetime viewers, up 16% versus the year-ago period, total viewers, while serving up 418,000 women 18-49 (fifth among all ad-supported cable nets) and 369,000 viewers 18-34 (up 24%).

For more coverage, check out AdweekMedia Upfront 2009
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