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"Dancing" with Paula Abdul, Katherine Heigl, and "Ugly Betty": ABC's Steve McPherson Talks to the Press

ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson wasn't given in to critics baying for blood at today's executive session at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour in Pasadena, offering an extremely measured and political response to questions about the departure of rival Ben Silverman from NBC.

"I don't really have a big reaction," said a very diplomatic McPherson. "NBC's in a transition now..."

It was a markedly different response from him than the other network heads gave about the situation, with CBS' Nina Tassler hitting back at Silverman for an insulting remark made a few years ago and FOX's Kevin Reilly making some pointed remarks.

It was also vastly different from the blunt comments made earlier in the day from Hank's Kelsey Grammer, who took on not one but two network heads during the session for Hank, in which he facetiously called CBS' Les Moonves a "selfless and ego-less man" and implied that FOX's Reilly was responsible for his much-publicized cardiac event during the cancellation of Back to You.

But while he was keeping mum about Silverman, McPherson had a lot to say about other ABC-related topics and revealed that he had made overtures to Paul Abdul to come on board the network's Dancing with the Stars.

Asked whether there was any interest on the part of ABC about whether they'd want to lure Paula Abdul to the network, McPherson said, "Absolutely. I would love that. We would love to have her on Dancing, whether as a contestant, a participant, or judge."

Asked to clarify what that statement meant, McPherson said that there had been contact between him and the former American Idol judge. "We definitely have reached out to her," said McPherson, "I called her to say that I was sorry about the situation and that we would love to see her on ABC."

Asked about developing high-profile dramas, McPherson said that there were some major risks involved. "You have to look at shows in terms of a complete system economics," said McPherson. "Maintaining some upside or limiting downside."

ABC has had a history of taking risks with high concept dramas like Lost and Desperate Houswives that have paid off, despite escalating production costs involved with such projects.

"Production cost is a worry, said McPherson, but certain shows do demand "cinematic feel and production value," like FlashForward. They'll continue to evaluate budgets based on the project and the vision of the creators.

"There is so much great drama out there, you have to be ambition and break through the clutter," said McPherson.

And, no, that doesn't always work, even with as beloved a series as the much-missed Pushing Daisies.

"When you have a show that you love and you think is wonderful, there's nothing worse than seeing it get no traction on the air," said McPherson. "Canceling shows is the worst part of my job."

One of the most noticeable things about ABC's fall slate is the abundance of comedy series airing this fall on the network. ABC has struggled in recent years to launch and maintain new comedy series but McPherson says that the network is committed to making a home for laughs on ABC.

McPherson said that they knew they had to get a foothold in comedy and had some "hiccups" with Samantha Who this past season. Still, McPherson said that he feels they should promote shows rather than blocks of programming. We'll see some very focused marketing on Wednesdays to promote the two-hour comedy block's individual series, which include Modern Family, Hank, The Middle, and Cougar Town.

As for critically acclaimed comedy Better Off Ted, McPherson said that he was disappointed by the decision to air the remainder of Ted's unaired Season One episodes this summer but they didn't know then what they know now.

"Hindsight is 20/20," said McPherson. "We would have liked a better performance... but I think post-Dancing slot will determine whether show will work or not.

And ABC also has to decide where to slot its Ricky Blitt-created midseason comedy Romantically Challenged starring Alyssa Milano, Kyle Bornheimer, and Eric Christian Olsen. "We are really excited about Romantically Challenged," said McPherson. "We'll look at that for midseason. Not sure where that would be.

Asked about Eastwick, McPherson said he felt Eastwick is "a really great fun way to do a take on female relationships we haven't seen before."

McPherson said that Scrubs will retain its title and not be renamed. The new season of Scrubs will also feature "the same character dynamics that we've seen before." Some of the core audience will return and Bill Lawrence will introduce new characters this season as well.

Asked about MOWs and mini-series, McPherson said that they'd like to make them work on the network but there are a number of pitfalls involved with launching short-form programming as a viable business. "We'd love to figure out a way to make it a business again," said McPherson, who said that MOWs and minis are such a financial risk and way too expensive of a proposition. "Very difficult business to pull off."

Asked about the timeslot team-up of former co-stars Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton (on ABC on Hank and The Middle respectively), McPherson said the original Middle pilot didn't creatively get to where it needed and then Heaton was available, so they went in together, whereas Hank was pitched as a series with Grammer attached already. McPherson described Hank as a "really funny, sophisticated multi-camera."

As for the much-hyped FlashForward, McPherson said, "We would love to have even a part of the success that Lost had."

McPherson didn't have any big announcements about Grey's Anatomy and spin-off Private Practice but did answer some questions about the two series.

"Shonda really hit her stride at the end of the year," said McPherson of Grey's. "We don't foresee any other giant changes," though there would be some new characters introduced next season.

"It's no secret that Katherine Heigl is back on Grey's," said McPherson. "It's a show that's evolving."

Looking to spin some of Heigl's recent comments, McPherson said that her words hurt the other hard-working actors on her show. "I'm not going to begin to try to explain someone else's behavior," he said about Heigl. "I think it's unfortunate," said McPherson. "It's not something you want to consumer you, or your people. People are going to behave in the way they choose to behave. There are so many people who work so hard on Grey's--and all of our shows--without any notoriety and those are the ones I'd be concerned about, people who feel like they're being criticized or looked down upon."

Whew.

"The end of last year of Private Practice is really a good lesson for an executive," admitted McPherson. "When I first heard story with Amy, I was frightened of it." The lesson from that Private Practice was: "trust great showrunners," says McPherson.

As for Ugly Betty, which moves to Fridays this fall, McPherson said that the network was extremely happy with the creative on the series this past season and said that they have "great plans" for Ugly Betty and it's "not going anywhere."

Comments

seth88 said…
The only comedy on ABC worth watching is Better Off Ted and I doubt it will be around for very long. I was amazed (but happy) that they brought it back at all.

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