ABC cutting back on commercials for series premiere episodes

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With eight new shows premiering this fall and seven in the next few weeks, Walt Disney Co.'s ABC is taking a big risk. No other network is premiering more than four new shows, but ABC had lots of holes to fill, and its Wednesday night lineup is entirely new.

Looking for any edge it can get, ABC is cutting the number of commercials it would normally run in the first episodes of its new series such as ‘Cougar Town,’ ‘The Middle,’ ‘FlashForward’ and ‘Eastwick.’ (For more on ABC’s strategy, please see our story in today’s Los Angeles Times.)
Gone will be the first commercial break, meaning one less opportunity for viewers to check out the competition (except, of course, for those rude viewers who don’t wait for the commercials to channel surf).

‘You hope the longer you keep them at the start of the show, the more likely they are to stick to it,’ said Jeff Bader, ABC Entertainment’s executive vice president and scheduling guru.
That also means more ‘content,’ as those in the TV business like to call the scripted part of entertainment. The comedies will be about three minutes longer and the dramas may be as much as five minutes longer. The opening of the dramas could run as long as 15 minutes without a break. ‘FlashForward,’ ABC’s big bet for the fall, may have an opening as long as 18 minutes. At one point the network even toyed with the idea of premiering the episode without any commercials, but with an economy weakened by a recession, they couldn’t find a single advertiser to foot the ‘brought to you by’ sponsorship -- and, hey, this isn’t PBS.

Having an extended first act is not unusual in cable television. TNT often runs its movies for almost 20 minutes before the first commercial appears. The difference is the cable network usually makes up for later with breaks so long viewers can go to the bathroom and cook a seven-course meal while waiting for their show to return. ABC’s Bader promised that there are not going to be ‘excruciatingly long commercial breaks’ to make up for the missing ‘pod.’
-- Joe Flint