One year after ABC engineered a surprise ratings turnaround, net execs are looking to duplicate that success this fall — but not to overplay expectations.
Speaking to reporters at the Alphabet web’s portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour, entertainment prexy Steve McPherson said he doesn’t dwell on the network’s recent triumphs, preferring to focus on the challenges ahead.
“With the successes this past year, I take that with a grain of salt,” he said. “I’m going to be about what’s next. This is a job where you are judged on what you did last week. You’re not judged on what you did two years ago. That’s good. We have to be constantly focused on the future.”
McPherson repeated his mantra that despite its huge strides, ABC is still “at the beginning of rebuilding.”
“This is not about pounding our chest and saying what a great year and kind of settling in,” he said. “I’m the most self-critical guy there is. I look at every show that didn’t work as something that we could have done better on.”
Still, given the tremendous out-of-the-gate premieres of “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost,” ABC plans to repeat its marketing strategy from a year ago.
That includes hammering just a handful of its new skeins. McPherson wouldn’t identify which shows, but said it soon would become “painfully obvious” which shows were at the top of ABC’s to-do list.
Fall full of drama
What’s already clear is that ABC has opted to focus on its new drama skeins in the fall, holding back its more unusual half-hour skeins (“Sons and Daughters,” “Emily’s Reasons Why Not”) until midseason.
“We definitely made a choice to go with the more traditional (sitcoms) in the fall,” he said. “We felt like in the fall clutter, with every network launching 20 shows between new and returning, that they might get lost. It’s really about giving them the best launching pad we can.”
McPherson also pointed out that rival nets had learned from ABC’s marketing wins last year — and the competition had been upped.
“Marketing is a huge obsession of mine, and I think it’s a huge obsession of the network,” he said. “We come with fresh eyes and try to just attack it as if we’ve never done this before. … But the problem is, because (last year’s marketing initiatives) worked, it has become really competitive. I really can’t get into it because people are ripping the ideas off.”
McPherson said a rival network even tried to promote its wares via laundry bags — a tactic ABC used last year to launch “Desperate Housewives.” ABC managed to keep the bags, and this year will throw in a free “Housewives” shirt for unsuspecting dry-cleaning customers.
As for the impact of “Housewives” and “Lost” on development, McPherson cautioned against trying to duplicate what makes those series tick.
“It would be a mistake to think that you can do those shows again,” he said. ” ‘Desperate’ and ‘Lost’ are not shows that you can rip off. You can’t do four versions of those.”
Not so ‘Welcome’
Meanwhile, reporters were more eager to debate the results of this summer’s “Dancing With the Stars” than the controversy surrounding ABC’s yanked reality skein “Welcome to the Neighborhood.”
ABC is still mulling whether to air an abbreviated version of “Neighborhood,” which drew concern from advocacy groups over its depiction of homeowners picking their new neighbor. McPherson said the decision to pull the show was internal and not the result of outside pressure.
“If I stopped airing things just because advocacy groups had issues with it, we would run a test pattern,” he said. “The show was just not right. We did not anticipate that the episodic nature of it would be as problematic as it was.”
Should the net opt to drop the show altogether, McPherson said he wouldn’t allow producers to shop it elsewhere.
“If you don’t think something is responsible to be broadcast, why would you encourage it to be broadcast elsewhere?” he asked.
As for “Dancing,” the hit skein’s scoring methodology was questioned by scribes, many of whom believed John O’Hurley should have won over Kelly Monaco. McPherson wasn’t as convinced as some of the TV critics.
“I like Kelly, but I’m a guy,” quipped McPherson, adding the network is mulling a same-week results show for the next “Dancing” cycle.
In other news:
- ABC’s fall sked kicks off with “Wife Swap” on Monday, Sept. 12; then “According to Jim” on Tuesday, Sept. 20; “Lost” and “Invasion” on Wednesday, Sept. 21; and “Supernanny” and “Hope & Faith” on Friday, Sept. 23.
After that, net’s Sunday lineup (except “America’s Funniest Home Videos”) launches Sept. 25; the rest of Tuesdays (except “Rodney”) on Sept. 27; “George Lopez” on Wednesday, Sept. 28; and all of Thursday on Sept. 29. “Home Videos” is back Oct. 2, with “Rodney” on Oct. 4, “Freddie” on Oct. 5 and “Hot Properties” on Oct. 7.
- McPherson said the net reserves the right to alter its planned post-January Monday night lineup depending on how the rest of ABC’s schedule is performing.
“Things change,” he said. “We now have a couple more assets coming out of the summer with alternative shows. So those will play into how we move things around.”