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ABC set to alter primetime strategy with tonight’s debut of ‘The Assets'

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Programming a network’s midseason TV schedule is not an easy task. Part of the problem is balancing the ebb and flow of spacing out new episodes with repeats or pre-emptions. For ABC, executives decided to go a different route in 2014 and the first series to test its new idea debuts tonight with the new mini-series “The Assets.”

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Based on the true story of how the CIA brought down a traitor in their own midst, the eight-part limited run series stars “Broadchurch’s” Jodie Whittaker as Sandy Grimes. Grimes and her partner Jeanne Vertefeuille (“Downton Abbey’s” Harriet Walter) were the ones who would eventually catch Aldrich Ames (Paul Rhys), a turncoat who endangered the lives of many of the agency’s undercover operatives.

Tonight’s debut marks a change of pace for not just ABC, but broadcast networks in general. ABC’s strategy for the 2013-2014 season was to break up most of its dramas into two separate uninterrupted batches. The idea being audiences wouldn’t have to deal with “a stop/start” approach to viewing.

The series also has the unique distinction as being produced under the ABC News umbrella, which doesn’t normally (if ever) produce scripted fare. Still, today’s rounds of reviews are mostly positive, especially for a show that’s getting very little exposure and promotion.

“The two episodes sent to critics are fairly gripping. We know Ames is the bad guy and we know he’ll get caught, but that knowledge heightens our interest. When will the net drop and how will Grimes and Vertefuille, corner him.” David Wiegand, San Francisco Gate

“Give ABC credit for using this sort of fare to keep the lights on.” – Brain Lowery, Variety

“The Assets” will take the place of “Scandal” until February 27, when the Kerry Washington fronted series will return for its final eight episodes of the season. Lead-in “Grey’s Anatomy” will also return on February 27, at which point ABC’s reality cooking competition “The Taste” will have wrapped its second season.Fans will also notice a similarly long hiatuses for “Revenge,” “Once Upon A Time” and “Once Upon A Time in Wonderland.”

However if “The Assets” works, expect to see more programming like this in the near future as the networks try to get more creative to keep their audiences. Over the next few weeks ABC is also rolling out shorter run series such as “Killer Women,” “Mind Games” and “Mixology” to fill the void left by some their featured players.

Yet unlike the others “Assets” is very much designed to be a one and done event, as it is a self-contained story. As a result audiences should feel free to get hooked on the show because unlike a few other short-run programs that can’t decide what they want to be, this one knows and that could be what makes it successful; that is anybody realizes it’s actually on the air.

“The Assets” debuts tonight at 10 p.m. EST on ABC.

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