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ABC: Ladies, Bingo and Blackberries

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The cast of Ugly Betty does a song and dance for advertisers. / ABC

NBC, which is tanking in the ratings, had a screen at its upfront with trying-too-hard-to-impress demographic statistics. ABC, which has a few top ten shows, has Jimmy Kimmel’s Upfront Fun Facts, “Percentage of people pretending to text people on your Blackberries to avoid talking to people: 83%.”

This is an advertising audience, folks. Blackberry jokes kill.

When you’re doing better in the ratings, you can afford to joke. Still, ABC is the feast-or-famine network, with a lot of ratings valleys between the peaks of Grey’s, Housewives, Betty, Makeover, Lost and Dancing with the Stars. So there was plenty of product to unveil at Avery Fisher Hall: a dozen new shows, give or take. (And take ABC did as well: The Knights of Prosperity is officially dead. According to Jim, comatose, but still, ominously, breathing.)

There were also entreaties to the advertisers, who are enchanted by, but afraid of, new technologies. ABC exec Anne Sweeney told the ad crowd that the network had worked out a deal with Time Warner Cable to allow people to watch ABC shows on demand, but not to skip the ads. Likewise, she said, ABC convinced Cox to disable the DVR fast-forward feature on ABC shows. “We’re the only network showing this kind of consideration for our advertisers,” she said. And this kind of inconsideration for its tech-savvy audience. TV fans, ABC hates your Tivo!

After the success of Housewives, Grey’s and Ugly Betty, ABC has embraced its girlie side, which is why it’s kind of weird that Kimmel has become the official voice of its upfront. But he gets the biggest laughs. ABC’s National Bingo Night, he says, is “for viewers who can’t handle the complexity of Deal or No Deal.” (Later, ABC hands out bingo cards to the audience, who play a round to win a 50-inch plasma TV, upon which ABC drops enough confetti to nominate a presidential candidate.) But he also jabs at the competition, noting that ABC recently set an end date for Lost. “I hear CBS has a similar plan for Katie Couric.”

But mostly, it’s about the ladies, to whom ABC owes its good fortune (there’s an Ugly Betty chorus-line dance number), and entertainment president Stephen McPherson introduces a slate of shows heavy on women, or men as women like to see them (i.e., hot and often shirtless, if occasionally Neanderthal):

* SAM I AM: Christina Applegate plays Samantha, who wakes from a coma having lost her memory, and has to rediscover everyone she knows and sicover if she likes herself. What About Brian fans: Barry Watson has already found new work here. Like many pilots from last season, it sounds like a great premise–for a movie.

* CAVEMEN: Three cavemen — Nick, Jamie and Joel — are cavemen facing bias in modern society. Can the clever premise of the Geico ads — which work because the cavemen in them are totally not sitcommy but are played straight — survive the translation to a half-hour? In a room full of advertisers, the trailer gets almost no laughs.

* CARPOOLERS: Pretty much what it sounds like. This sitcom, with a Kids in the Hall pedigree, is a male-bonding story of office workers who share a ride to work. I want to see this. Very funny-looking trailer, even if it has the look of brilliant ABC comedies (Sons and Daughters, etc.) that the network cancels immediately.

* CASHMERE MAFIA: Networks have been trying to find a broadcast version of Sex and the City for nearly a decade. Then ABC did that with Grey’s Anatomy. But it’s not averse to doing it again, which is why it hired Sex’s Darren Star to create this drama about four professional women, their careers, their romances and the expensive restaurant tables around which they talk about them. (See also: NBC’s Lipstick Jungle.)

* PUSHING DAISIES: This much-buzzed drama, about a detective who can raise the dead by touching them (and kills them again with a second touch) has a hyperstylized fairy tale look, and a romantic twist: the protagonist has raised his true love from the dead and can never touch her again. Intriguing. Whimsical. Definitely near the top of the watch-first pilot pile when it arrives.

* PRIVATE PRACTICE: It’s more Grey’s Anatomy. You may now back up the money truck.

* DIRTY SEXY MONEY: Peter Krause is the high-priced lawyer for a spoiled, corrupt rich family. Definitely salacious. Possibly sleazilicious. And Dan Rather has a cameo!

* BIG SHOTS: Because men need their own Grey’s Anatomy, ABC is debuting this dramedy about the marriage and/or love lives of a group of male pals. Lots of sex, lots of golf. “Men. We’re the new women,” says Dylan McDermott in the trailer.

* WOMEN’S MURDER CLUB: Sadly, the women are not doing the murdering but solving them. A crime procedural that looks like Fox Force Five (four, actually) if Quentin Tarantino sold the idea to Jerry Bruckheimer, who then made it for CBS.

* OPRAH’S BIG GIVE: From the brief clips, this is a charity competition show, which involves people racing to give away money, and Oprah screaming really loud, “Give big or go home!” in her best “You’re getting a car!” voice.

* ELI STONE: A successful lawyer starts hearing music in his head, which somehow changes his life, makes him search for meaning and… oh, hell, I’m gonna have to wait for the pilot.

* MISS GUIDED: A single-camera comedy from Ashton Kutcher–wait, come back!–about a former high-school nerd (Arrested Development’s Judy Greer) who grows up and returns to school as the guidance counselor. Steals the basic theme of Never Been Kissed, but then I liked that movie. Which probably makes me just about a womany enough man for ABC.