TCA: ABC Executive Session

Compared to his broadcast network peers, ABC President Stephen McPherson had a pretty low-key executive session, admitting outright that he didn’t really have any grand announcements to drop on us, but he did discuss the following matters:

* “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” returns to ABC tomorrow. McPherson describes being on the set with Regis again as “nostalgic and energizing,” and assures us that the show’s return features the best million-dollar question moment in the entire history of the series. Big talk, but we’ll see.

* McPherson’s got class. He didn’t take the bait when asked for the obligatory comment about Ben Silverman’s departure, and he fully acknowledged that he’s interested in seeing what’s going to happen with Jay Leno, given that it’s the first time we’ve seen anything like this on TV in our lifetime.

* On the matter of viewers investing in series that could be yanked out from under them at any given moment, he made it clear that it’s not an arbitrary decision when a show is canceled. “How patient can you be?” he asked. “How much information do you have about the show? Is it being rejected? Is it slowly building? Is it stable at that label? How does it affect the rest of your schedule? The overall network?” Though they try to be as patient as they can be with a series, sometimes it just has to go. “Canceling shows is the worst part of my job,” he said.

* That’s as may be, but it sounds like dealing with Katherine Heigl’s outbursts can’t be a heck of a lot better. When asked about her actions, he replied, “I think it’s unfortunate. It’s not something I think you want to let consume you or your people, because it is what it is, and people are going to behave in the way they choose to behave, but I think there are so many people who work hard on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and all of our shows and go without any credit. Those are the people I’d be most concerned about.”

* When “Scrubs,” it’s still gonna be “Scrubs.” “It’s not changing its title,” confirmed McPherson. “It’s gonna be different in the sense of the construct of what’s going on, but it’ll be the same character dynamics as before, but it’s allowing Bill (Lawrence) to introduce new characters and spend time with them. But it’ll be the same tonal show, with the same kind of comedy and storytelling that you’re used to.” As noted, Zach Braff will be turning up for a few episodes, but McPherson says they’re going to “try to convince him to do more.”

* Despite appearances, “FlashForward” was not specifically created to be the heir apparent to “Lost.” “We would love for it to have even a part of the success of ‘Lost,'” McPherson admitted, ‘but the spec script was originally done, I think, for HBO, and we were thrilled to read it. But there was no development where we went, ‘Hey, let’s try to make the next ‘Lost’! It was just about good material.”

* It seems a bit weird that ABC should’ve rescued both Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton after their joint Fox failure, “Back to You,” but McPherson says they came about through very different circumstacnes. “We’d previously developed ‘The Middle’ and even shot it, but we just didn’t feel like we’d gotten the pilot to where it needed to be,” he said. “But then Patti got available, she struck us as the perfect person for the show, and she sparked to the script.” As for Grammer, his new series, “Hank,” was pitched “as a full show with him attached, and we felt it was really in the zeitgeist and a great character for him to be playing.”

* “Romantically Challenged,” the new Alyssa Milano / Kyle Bornheimer sitcom, is in talks for a midseason run, but McPherson isn’t sure where to put it at the moment.

* Despite rumors to the contrary, “Ugly Betty” was never canceled. It was just taken off the air to offer up episodes of “Samantha Who?” and “In the Motherhood,” and McPherson is very excited about the new season.

* In regards to Violet’s storyline on “Private Practice” last season, he acknowledged that he was “frightened by it” when heard about it, but “while it’s polarizing, it’s gained excitement about the show and the characters and the potential where we can go with it. We can go edgier at 10 PM, and it can be a different show than ‘Grey’s.'” McPherson declared the storyline to be a perfect example of why you should trust great show runners.

* And, lastly, for all of you “American Idol” fans, McPherson admitted that he has indeed reached out to Paula Abdul, and although he first said that he was sorry about what she was going through, he did managed to slip in that he’d love to see her on ABC.

  

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