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'Switched at Birth,' with heart

THE SHOW "Switched at Birth"

WHEN | WHERE Monday night at 9 on ABC Family

REASON TO WATCH It's a hit! Maybe.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT One's a rich kid, one's a lower-middle-class kid, who also happens to be deaf . . . and they were accidentally switched at birth in the hospital. Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) knew she never looked like mom, Kathryn (Lea Thompson) or dad, John (D.W. Moffett) -- a former first baseman for the Kansas City Royals. Now she knows why -- they're not her real parents. Her real mom is Regina Vasquez (Constance Marie), who has raised the Kennishes' real daughter, Daphne (Katie Leclerc). At the end of last week's premiere episode, Regina and Daphne moved in with the Kennishes. Time for everyone to get to know one another . . .

MY SAY Surprise, surprise. ABC Family has another hit. Just like that. In its debut last Monday, "Switched" was seen by 3.3 million viewers, the largest crowd ever for an ABC Family newcomer. A fluke? Not at all. After decades -- decades! -- of mismanagement and dartboard programming strategies, ABC and Disney have gradually turned that dusty old sadsack once known as The Family Channel into a hit machine -- think "Pretty Little Liars" . . . "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" . . . and now, likely, "Switched at Birth."

ABC Family has accomplished this the old-fashioned way: effective promotion, solid execution, audience research, and formula, formula, formula. Moreover, the shows are mostly good -- not smarmy sexpots that take aim at the world's easiest target, the teenage libido. Case in point is "Switched" -- gentle, poignant and relatable. The ol' switched-at-birth plot device, by the way, has long been used to explore the whole gamut of human relations and emotions. ABC Family's hunch, probably a sound one, is that viewers will also identify with Daphne and Bay.

BOTTOM LINE Last week's launch bodes well.

GRADE B+

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