ABC to Air 'Alias' Debut Commercial-Free

The premiere of ABC's new weekly spy drama "Alias" will run commercial-free when it airs on Sept. 30, in an unusual move for network television, the network said on Sunday.

"Alias," a one-hour show about a young woman who leads a double life as she works for a top-secret division of the CIA, will boast cell phone maker Nokia Corp. as the lone sponsor for its premiere episode this fall, ABC told reporters at a gathering to promote its fall schedule.

"As the television landscape becomes increasingly competitive, we are challenged to find new and inventive ways to make our programming stand out from the pack," said Stu Bloomberg, co-chairman of ABC Entertainment Television Group, in a statement. "This unique partnership with Nokia will help us do just that for 'Alias,' and we applaud them for their belief and commitment to this compelling series."

Details of the partnership have yet to be ironed out, but Nokia said in a statement the series "is the perfect platform" for the company's launch of its Nokia 3300 Series of wireless phone.

Bloomberg told reporters that product placements could be a part of the equation. "If there is a product placement, it will be very organic," he said.

ABC Entertainment Television Group co-chairman Lloyd Braun acknowledged that the commercial-free format is a risky one for networks that depend on ad revenues to pay for their shows.

We've never done a show like this," Braun said. "There's an investment component in this for us. But we think this show's worth it."

Commercial-free television is relatively rare on the broadcast networks, although a number of cable stations have experimented with the format. Such stations have more flexibility because they receive a portion of their revenues from subscription fees, and are not completely dependent on ad revenues like the broadcast networks.

The most notable provider of commercial-free series TV is subscription-based HBO, whose popular shows such as "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City" all run commercial free.

ABC is a unit of The Walt Disney Co.

- Reuters