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ABC president: We're prioritizing returning shows, and Heigl is staying - TCA Report

by Joel Keller, posted Jul 16th 2008 6:25PM
Steve McPherson talks to the pressAfter Jimmy Kimmel left the room, ABC Entertainment Steve McPherson got on with the business of facing the press at his executive session. I kicked it off with a question about Scrubs, following up on what Bill Lawrence told me in May about a possible "next generation" ninth season.

"We do think there's an opportunity after (this eighth season)," said McPherson. "If any or all the cast is a part of that, I think there's a growth (opportunity) there. It's a show that, despite being moved around into like 17 time periods and really never being given the marketing support, has really performed unbelievably well on NBC." He went on to say that they hope "it won't be a one-season situation."

Other than that, most of the conversation revolved around the network's returning shows, which makes sense, since the network is only debuting a few new shows (none of which had pilots that the network thought were suitable for preview) this fall.

Of course, the biggest reason why they're concentrating on promoting returning shows is the writers' strike killed the traditional spring development season. But he felt that they didn't approach this fall any differently than others. "We have kind of the advantage going in that we felt that we really had a dominant Fall and a real strong core schedule, so we didn't need that much new programming," he said. "And we also decided really early on that we weren't going to kind of announce in May shows that didn't exist, that hadn't been developed or shot or piloted and gone through the regular process."

They're still developing pilots at this point, a situation McPherson called "odd." But there was nothing in what he said that gave the impression that ABC's development season would be forever changed by the strike. "But we're really just going to do things when they're ready. We still have windows of opportunity to launch shows. I don't think it's going to be a process where you are just going to have randomly pilots throughout the year."

One thing he did feel was good was that he was able to get production started early on some of the first-season shows he held back after the strike ended -- Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money, and Private Practice (and it's no secret that Scrubs will be largely done with season eight by August). "It gave us a lot more prep time on the writing side and enabled us to get to more episodes before summer end, you know. We were looking at the possibility of the SAG strike, and it allowed a little bit of protection against that," McPherson said.

Some other tidbits:

  • He felt that the best episodes of Private Practice last year combined the personal and the medical elements well. Last year, there were times when "there was a lot of talking, a lot of time in the coffee room taking about the angst, that's not that show. It's not what Shonda (Rhimes, the creator) does well." Look to see more medical stories this year, plus Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) doing more surgeries, like she did on Grey's Anatomy.
  • Speaking of Grey's, the "H-word" -- Heigl -- came up. After heaping praise on her, McPherson not-so-subtly said that "I think it's unfortunate when there's any kind of turmoil on a show. There's so many people who work so unbelievably hard to make that show the #1 show in the country. Everyone from the grips to the writers to the EPs, I think, deserves an enormous amount of credit. And I never like to see when any of them are in any way taken lightly. So I think that was really unfortunate." That being said, he said that she's "absolutely staying" on the show and that Rhimes is writing an "unbelievable" storyline for Heigl's character Izzie.
  • Life on Mars is being rewritten, recast and reshot, as most people know. But McPherson doesn't think it's a "troubled show" at all. To him, the new writers gave him a script "which is really much more in keeping with what we wanted to get accomplished originally" when they made the deal to import the time-travel cop show from England.
  • The reason why there was a show-runner change on Dirty Sexy Money: "I think the (second season's) first episode back when we saw the rough cut, I don't think they were personally what anybody wanted." He thinks, though, that the show has found its way with John Feldman.
  • There are concerns about bringing those Wednesday dramas back after such a long hiatus. "I think sometimes when we're really passionate about things, we try to convince ourselves that there's a real audience for them," he said. Then he brought up the prototypical "back from the dead show" from recent times. "I applaud CBS for Jericho. There was a huge groundswell. But groundswell and success don't necessarily match up." His goal is to make sure the core audience stays while attracting new ones. He specifically mentioned that Eli Stone will do a reset of sorts at the beginning of its second season in hopes of bringing in new viewers.
  • The great thing about the producers of Lost knowing that there's an endpoint is that "they didn't have to fill some undetermined middle of the show." While the strike compressed some plot lines and pushed others to the next season, McPherson still feels like Lindelof and Cuse are on track to do what they set out to do with their remaining seasons.
  • Why is this the final season for Boston Legal, and why is it so short? David E. Kelley wanted it that way, according to McPherson. "I really like being able to know when shows are going out. I think it's -- as big a decision as a Lost decision a couple years out, it's really good to know, as opposed to doing, you know, with Scrubs, is it on again? Is it going to not be on? Let's let these creators who have created unbelievably compelling characters and iconic pieces of television -- let's let them end it with dignity and integrity and, to me, compelling content. And we can market it as such."

After the press conference, McPherson, who's probably in better shape than 99.9% of the pasty masses that were attending (me included), walked very quickly out of the Beverly Hilton's International ballroom, with a stream of huffing and puffing reporters in tow. I joined midstream and was in the scrum that formed outside the ballroom, which is where he talked about Kimmel, among other things. More on that later.

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Laura Clark

I love that the Wednesday night shows didn't change. My favorate night of the week last fall.

Boston Legal is just now gaining the ratings it needs. And now they are going to get rid of it. Not the smartest move, but whatever.

July 17 2008 at 8:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow, great reporting, Joel! Lots of good information.

July 16 2008 at 10:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't believe the comment about Boston Legal. ABC doesn't own the show, therefore why would they want to pay to have it on for the full season. Be a MAN McPherson and tell the damn truth. You don't want the show on, it's never advertised properly, but yet it wins award after award. Oh, but wait, I see a pattern, you had nothing to do with this show from the beginning. Please take your meds and tell the truth. Best show on ABC.

July 16 2008 at 10:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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