ABC frames tech vision

McPherson puts focus on content at TCA

ABC’s iPod deal last fall had a far-reaching impact on the industry — and it’s just the beginning, according to network entertainment topper Steve McPherson.

Speaking to reporters Saturday at the Alphabet net’s portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour, McPherson said the network has several criteria that must be met before diving into new technology.

“It has to be a great consumer experience,” he said. “The iPod is a perfect example of that. Second, we have to absolutely have digital rights protection. Third, it’s really got to complement our brand.” Then there’s the revenue-generating aspect: McPherson noted if there’s money to be made, the network needs to make sure that it takes advantage of that.

But McPherson also warned of “technology wagging the dog.” In other words, “We look at our franchises and our shows, and we look across all platforms and all products in terms of how we can grow them to complement the mother ship.” McPherson stressed that content still won out, pointing to Apple’s decision to contact Disney about using “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” to help launch the video iPod.

Meanwhile, McPherson addressed the net’s decision to yank “Emily’s Reasons Why Not” after one airing. “Creatively we just did not get the show where it needed to be,” he said. “All of us tried really hard — producers, network, studio — but it just never got on track. … We needed to make a quick change.”

The news is slightly better for “Emily’s” companion laffer, “Jake in Progress.” McPherson said he still believed “Jake” deserved another shot. “I have a crush on John Stamos,” he quipped.

“I really believe in that show. They’ve done a great job of kind of expanding the cast, making the world a ‘broader kind of appeal’ audience show.”

As for word that ABC has put in a bid to pick up “Arrested Development,” in case Fox drops it, McPherson said such a move in unlikely. “We certainly would have interest if there was ever a possibility,” he said. “I don’t really foresee that happening. I think it’s a long shot. I believe that I can market that show really well, and I think we have some spots in the schedule that make sense for us.”

Addressing concerns that “Housewives” has lost its way this year, McPherson admitted the show started slow this season. “I think there’s momentum getting back into it,” he said. “It’s sophomore growth. I don’t look at it as a slump, because clearly America still loves this show.”

McPherson admitted that finding a hit sitcom has become a priority at the studio. “It’s a difficult time right now for the traditional sitcom,” he said. “We have to kind of expand our horizons in terms of comedy.”

Also at the TCA, ABC News prexy David Westin said he’s not concerned about a dip in the ratings for “World News Tonight” as viewers become accustomed to its new dual-anchor format with Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff.

One full week into the new format, “World News” is closer in the ratings to third-place CBS than to frontrunner NBC.

“We have one week worth of ratings,” Westin said. “It’s sort of like trying to guess how the Super Bowl is going to come out after one down.”

(Michael Learmonth contributed to this report.)

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