TCA: ABC’s McPherson Details Post-Strike Challenges

ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson: 'This fall is important for all of the networks in getting the viewers back.'

Beverly Hills -- ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson acknowledged the challenges facing broadcast television in the wake of the 100-day writers’ strike that decimated the development season.

“I think none of us foresaw or wanted the winter interlude, if you will,” he said during a Q&A session with the media at the Television Critics Association press tour here Wednesday.

“I think this fall is important for all of the networks in getting the viewers back,” he added. “I hope the message that you get from all of us that is we’re rooting for broadcast television.”

It’s a particularly challenging time for broadcast television, with cable on track to perform even stronger this summer than last -- already its best summer season on record.

And while ABC is also having its highest-rated summer in multiple seasons with fresh reality fare and news programming bringing desperately needed eyeballs to the network (and the network's fall promos), it still faces considerable challenges promoting a fall slate heavy on sophomore shows that were interrupted by the strike.

Its entire Wednesday-night lineup of Pushing Daisies, Private Practice and Dirty Sexy Money had little time to get established with viewers last season.

“We’re going to spend a lot of money and effort in launching the fall,” McPherson said.

That said, he stressed that the broadcast business is not on life support, citing the healthy upfront selling season. “I think we’re in great shape,” he added. “This business is incredibly vibrant.”

ABC’s fall season is light on new fare with only two new shows: a remake of British drama Life on Mars, which will get the post-Grey’s Anatomy slot Thursdays at 10 p.m., and reality entry Opportunity Knocks, which will lead off Tuesday nights.

Scrubs, which ABC picked up after NBC cut the comedy loose, will bow during midseason.

McPherson echoed the sentiments of friend and competitor Kevin Reilly, entertainment president at Fox, who said earlier this week that network executives were looking at new ways to develop comedy talent -- including meeting with writers in their homes.

“To me, comedy is about a point of view,” McPherson said. “We need great points of view. Situation comedy just doesn’t get it done. We all need to focus on it and figure out new ways of doing things.”

McPherson added that he’s hopeful that Scrubs could go beyond the one-season order of 18 episodes. “It will not hopefully be a one-season situation,” he said, “but we’ll take that as it comes.”

A couple of high-profile talent additions may up the buzz factor on returning shows.

Katie Holmes will have a multiepisode guest arc on sophomore drama Eli Stone beginning with the series' second episode Oct. 21. Mrs. Tom Cruise will sing and dance, according to series creator Greg Berlanti.

And Lucy Liu, no longer tied up with the half-season-and-out Cashmere Mafia, will “really change the dynamic” of Dirty Sexy Money, McPherson said hopefully, adding that the drama “took itself a little too seriously” last season. “To me,” he said, “it was a great popcorn guilty pleasure.”

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