[08/09/09 - 11:28 AM]
ABC at TCA: Mcpherson on Abdul, Heigl and More
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- "Absolutely," ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson said when asked if he'd welcome former "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul to his network's reality franchise "Dancing With the Stars." "I would love to have it. I was a little stunned by the decision, and we would love to have her on "Dancing" and whether it's as a contestant or participant of some sort, judge, et cetera. I think she's a huge talent. I think that there's a lot made about her in terms of who she is, and I think there's a sensitivity and there's kind of an emotion to her that balancing out "Idol." And we'd love to get a piece of that. It would be great."

McPherson was the last of the network chiefs to take the stage at the TCA summer press tour on Saturday. The relatively low-key half-hour saw the executive address the obvious hot button issues of the day - Abdul, Jay Leno and Ben Silverman - as well as Katherine Heigl's less than positive comments about her "Grey's Anatomy" experience.

"I mean, I think it's unfortunate," said about the actress. "It's not something I think you want to let consume you or your people because it is what it is. People are going to behave in the way they choose to behave. You know, I think there are so many people who work unbelievably hard on "Grey's" and all of our shows and go without any notoriety or credit for it. And I just think it's really hard for them to hear it the most. Those are the people I would be the most concerned about, not the public really, but the people who are really busting their tail every day and feeling like they're either being looked down upon or criticized, etc." When asked to speculate about the context of her comments, he added: "I don't know. I'm not going to begin to try to explain someone else's behavior. As I say, it's just unfortunate."

As for Abdul, McPherson noted that he's already reached out to her: "We're friends from way back, so I gave her a call, first and foremost, just to say I was sorry about the situation and also that we'd love to see her on ABC."

Turning to the competition, McPherson says he doesn't "really have a big reaction" to Silverman's exit from NBC. "I think NBC's in transition right now. I think we're all anxious to see what happens with "Leno" and that big primetime move. And then, I haven't had a chance to see a lot of their new development, so I don't have a real competitive sense in terms of that. We all want a vibrant network system. And so, as competitive as we are, Nina [Tassler] and Kevin [Reilly] and I, we want to be great competitors and we want the broadcast business to be really vibrant, so I hope they can get it back there."

As for Leno taking over the 10:00/9:00c hour specifically, he only offered up that "I think they're just two very different strategies. NBC seems to be kind of doing their own thing, and the other networks seem to be kind of following the tradition of trying to put on great material."

Other highlights are as follows:

On the return of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire": "Michael Davies called me, actually, from the set end of last week. And the way the show works, you don't always know what moments you're going to get over the run of it, and we're incredibly excited that he feels we literally have the best million-dollar-moment question that we've had for the entire run of the season -- of the series, including the old show on broadcast."

On pulling the plug on various critical darlings this past season: "I think it's one of the biggest challenges that people in my position face, is, like, how patient can you be? And really, that becomes a question of how much information do you have about the show? Is it being rejected? Is it slowly building? Is it stable at that level? And then, you do, at some point, have to look at how is it affecting the rest of your schedule? How does it affect the overall network? We want to try to be as patient as we can. We feel like, with some pretty ambitious shows, "Pushing Daisies" and stuff, the strike really derailed us, and then we came back and had them on for a little while there. And it's hard. When you have a show that you love and you feel like creatively it's wonderful, there's nothing harder than seeing it not get traction on the air. Canceling shows is the worst part of my job."

On what's happening with "Scrubs" next season: "It's going to be "Scrubs." Somebody mentioned something about a change in title, but we're not changing the title. I think it's going to be different in the sense of the kind of construct of what is going on in terms of hospital versus teaching, et cetera, but you're going to see the same character dynamics that you've seen before. And I think it really is allowing Bill to introduce some new characters and spend some more time with them, some people that were in the show already and that he was excited about, and some new people as well. But you're going to have some of the core. Obviously, Zach's going to be there for a limited period of time. We'll try to convince him as much as we can to get him to do more. But it's going to be the same tonal show, same kind of comedy, same kind of storytelling that you're used to."

On his expectations for "FlashForward": "Well, I mean, we would love to have even a part of the success that "Lost" has had, but they weren't developed in that way. As I think David mentioned, that was a spec script that they had done originally, I think, for HBO, and it became available. And Suzanne Patmore, who was running our drama department at that point at the network, knew about it and had been tracking it and was friends with Jessica, and we were just thrilled to read it. So it wasn't like there was any kind of development of, hey, let's try to make a "Lost" kind of -- the next "Lost" or something. It was really just about great material. And then I think there are similarities in terms of the epic kind of nature of it, the inciting incident, etc. But they're very different shows. I think when you see them unfold, they'll be very different."

On the changes to "Grey's Anatomy" this year: "Well, Katherine is back. I don't think there's any big secret about that. And obviously, T.R. [Knight] has left. But I think, you know, it's a show that's evolving. I think these large ensemble casts, they evolve over time for a variety of reasons: some of them creative, some of them business, some of them just personality issues. But this one really -- we feel like Shonda really hit her stride again at the end of last year. And the early stuff we've seen this year, we're really excited about. We made some additions to the cast last year, and I think you're going to see some more additions this year. I don't foresee any giant other changes that are going on. Ellen [Pompeo] is going to have a baby, which we're all really excited about. So that will probably take her out for a couple episodes, but that really is the big goings-on right now."

On if they'll pick up "Romantically Challenged": "We're really excited about that. Ricky's [Blitt] been someone we've been dying to be in business with. And Alyssa [Milano] as well, is, I just think, fabulous. We, at the eleventh hour, were able to cast Kyle [Bornheimer], who is just phenomenal. So we'll look at that for midseason. Not sure where that would be. Obviously, going with all of our other comedies either on Wednesday or with "Scrubs" and "Better Off Ted." So we'll see where that transpires."

On the decision to pull "Ugly Betty" from Thursday nights last season: "[It] was never canceled at all. We just took it off of Thursday so that we could spell in with "Samantha" and "Motherhood." So that was -- and we have great plans for "Ugly." We think it's terrific. It's staying in New York another year. We'll see where the tax situation goes after that. But I think America and that whole cast and crew is doing some of their best work. If you watched the season last year, creatively it was incredibly strong. So that's the first part."

On how "Private Practice" ended last season: "You know, it's interesting. I think the end of last year of "Private Practice" is really a good lesson for an executive because when I first heard the story with Amy [Brenneman], I was like, "Wow." I was frightened by it. And the response to it, while it has been, you know, polarizing, it really has gained kind of an excitement about the show and her character and the potential for where we could go. I think the fact that it's at 10:00, it can go a little bit edgier. I think we can tell those kind of stories. And I think we want it to be a different show than "Grey's," and we want to grow it. So for me, it was really a lesson to trust great showrunners. Shonda had an idea for it and felt like it would work, and she really executed it. So my hat's off to her."

On the decision to air "Better Off Ted" this summer: "You know, summer was tough in general. We felt like where we wanted to go creatively with the show, we really wanted to get that start. And we've tabled a couple episodes and feel like we're in really good shape there. So I don't know. Hindsight is 20/20. We would have definitely liked a better performance, but I do think we're going to put on really good shows in the fall or, you know, after the "Dancing" run. And I think that's going to speak -- that's going to be what is going to determine whether the show works or not."

  [august 2009]  


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