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ABC's changes underwhelming

Travis Stork will star in the eighth edition of "The Bachelor."
Travis Stork will star in the eighth edition of "The Bachelor."
Bob Damico, ABC

ABC is the hottest network going these days.

Oh, our friends at CBS (who lead in the ratings) would no doubt disagree, but ABC — pretty much dead in the water two seasons ago — made a huge comeback with shows like "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" last fall. And continued that momentum with shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Commander in Chief."

These are the kinds of shows that people are not only watching but talking about. The so-called "water-cooler shows."

Which is why ABC's announcement of its post-"Monday Night Football" plans is so . . . well, ho-hum.

It's hard to imagine that anybody is going to be standing around the water cooler saying, "Hey! Did you see 'The Bachelor' last night?"

It's easier to imagine somebody asking, "Is that still on?"

Effective Jan. 9, the network's Monday lineup will be:

"Wife Swap" at 7 p.m. (It currently airs before or after "MNF" in every time zone but this one.)

New sitcom "Emily's Reasons Why Not" at 8 p.m. (And, judging by the pilot, it's not anything to get excited about.)

The returning sitcom "Jake in Progress" at 8:30 p.m. (It was a surprise renewal in May — a good show with bad ratings. And word is that ABC renewed it at least in part to keep star John Stamos from becoming a regular on "ER.")

And the remarkably tired "Bachelor" at 9 p.m.

But ABC is assuring us that it's injecting new life and new vitality into this tired franchise by producing this edition in — gasp — romantic France! What an amazingly original idea!

Oh, wait. That's what Fox did with its "Bachelor" rip-off "Joe Millionaire" in 2003.

It's not that I don't feel for ABC. The "Monday Night Football" franchise has been a mixed blessing for the network.

"It's quite difficult to, every six months, relaunch a Monday night," said ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson. "'The idea of having (football viewers) for six months, while it's valuable for the time that you have them, it's also really detrimental the time you don't."

That won't be a problem anymore, because "MNF" is moving to ABC's sister network, ESPN, in the fall. Which will give ABC a chance to establish a Monday-night lineup that it can carry through an entire season. Even, McPherson hopes, from season to season.

"Having the consistency of that, I think, will be really important. . . . Especially with the strength of our Sunday night, we feel like there's a real promotional platform for us," he said. "It gives us the opportunity to really add some consistency for an audience rather than just kind of have this rented audience for a limited period of time."

I just hope they could come up with something better than "The Bachelor."

WHEN "24" RETURNS to Fox's Monday schedule in January, there will (obviously) be some major changes. According to Fox, it's 18 months later and Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) — who's presumed dead — gets back into action when "national security is brutally breached" by a "billionaire bad guy" (Julian Sand).

New cast members include Peter Weller as the federal agent who recruited Jack to the Counter Terrorism Unit years earlier; JoBeth Williams as his wife; Connie Britton as Jack's new love; Sean Astin as a CTU agent; and Jean Smart as the first lady — wife of "shaky" President Logan (Gregory Itzin).

Returning cast members include Roger Cross (Curtis Manning), Louis Lombardi (Edgar Stiles), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O'Brian), Carlos Bernard (Tony Almeda) and Kim Raver (Audrey Raines).

Repeating last year's highly successful pattern, the first four hours of "24" air Sunday, Jan. 15, and Monday, Jan. 16. The following 20 hours will air Mondays at 8 p.m.

Can't wait.