Network announces fall dates

The great latenight shuffle’s just a year away, but Jimmy Kimmel has nothing to worry about.

That’s the word from ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson, who told reporters Wednesday that Kimmel would be fully consulted on the net’s future latenight ambitions.

Those aims are widely believed to include “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, who becomes a free agent next year after stepping down from his Peacock perch. Leno’s departure is expected to set into motion musical chairs that could include changes at ABC and perhaps a revived franchise at Fox.

Opening up his portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour, McPherson said the net is committed to Kimmel — and he believes a latenight Leno-Kimmel combo would be a solid force.

Nonetheless, McPherson added that Leno’s future remains a question first for NBC.

“I can’t believe they’re going to let this guy go at the top of his game,” McPherson said. “If that happens, I guess we’ll look at it at the time, and Jimmy will be involved in those discussions, and that will be that.”

ABC remains the odds-on favorite to house Leno, leading to speculation that Leno’s arrival could squeeze out Kimmel, who has scored big buzz for his “Jimmy Kimmel Live” this year.

Kimmel made a cameo appearance during McPherson’s press tour sesh, posing as a reporter to ask the exec (in a prestaged exchange) and make light of anticipated competish next year for Leno’s services.

“There are rumors that ABC is actively courting Jay Leno for 11:30. Is there any truth to the rumors?” he asked McPherson from the audience. “If you were even to talk to Jay Leno, wouldn’t that be like contract tampering? Wouldn’t that be illegal? Couldn’t you go to jail for that? Are you at all afraid that if you do replace Jimmy Kimmel, he might do something crazy to you or your car?”

Kimmel’s appearance was meant to preempt questions about his fate should Leno be in play (“Nightline” was barely mentioned, beyond Kimmel jokingly asking about the fate of Ted Koppel — who left the show years ago).

“We love Jimmy. He’s a part of this network and will be an asset for us for many years to come,” McPherson told reporters later. “There’s absolutely room for both” Kimmel and Leno.

McPherson said several different scheduling options exist for ABC should Leno join the fold, beyond just sliding Leno and Kimmel into the traditional 11:30 and 12:30 slots — although those traditional slots “are something we’d have to look at.”

Also during McPherson’s press tour sesh, the exec confirmed he’s looking at ways to keep “Scrubs” on the air beyond this year, potentially with new cast members. (Star Zach Braff is set to depart after this season whether or not the show continues.)

“I still think there’s a great amount of growth there,” McPherson said of “Scrubs.” “We do think that it will not hopefully be a one-season situation.”

McPherson noted that ABC is still adjusting to the impact of the WGA strike — it’s still producing pilots, after all, with an eye toward screening the projects in late August and making series orders after that.

With just two new shows on air this fall, the Alphabet will be able to spend more marketing dollars on returning skeins, McPherson added. As it has in the past few years, ABC will continue to strategically put promo money behind shows that could benefit the most.

“We’ll make Sunday and ‘Desperate Housewives’ a priority for fall — that wouldn’t be the case if we had a lot of new shows,” he said. Also, among the two new series, ” ‘Opportunity Knocks’ will get a little more than ‘Life on Mars,’ which has a more protected slot,” he added.

In addition, McPherson said, the net may be able to air extra episodes of several series this coming season, as shows such as “Pushing Daisies” didn’t return to the air post-strike but started banking segs.

As for rumors that “Grey’s Anatomy” star Katherine Heigl may be departing the show (after voicing frustration over her character’s story arc last year), McPherson said the thesp is still committed to the series this season.

“It’s unfortunate when there’s any kind of turmoil on a show,” he said. “She’s absolutely staying with the show; there’s an unbelievable storyline for her central to everything going on this season.”

Still, rumors are rampant online that Heigl’s character will be given a brain tumor — which could still mean she’s out the door after next year.

Meanwhile, ABC is talking to “Wipeout” producer Endemol about ordering additional episodes of the summer hit. McPherson said he’d ideally like to keep the show in the summer as an off-season franchise.

“We’re going to try to resist the temptation to just burn things out,” he said.

ABC also announced that its premiere week will start on Monday, Sept. 22, with a two-hour “Dancing With the Stars” followed by “Boston Legal” at 10 p.m. Monday laffer “Samantha Who?” returns two weeks later, on Oct. 6.

Tuesdays are back Sept. 23 with the frosh reality entry “Opportunity Knocks” and a two-hour “Dancing” special; the “Dancing” results hour returns Sept. 30, while “Eli Stone” slides into its 10 p.m. slot Oct. 14.

The Alphabet will stick with specials on Wednesday during premiere week, with a one-time Wednesday “Dancing” results show and an event starring David Blaine. The night’s “Pushing Daisies,” “Private Practice” and “Dirty Sexy Money” are back Oct. 1.

On Thursday, Sept. 25, “Ugly Betty” returns at 8 p.m., followed by a two-hour “Grey’s Anatomy.” Latter shrinks to one hour on Oct. 9, making way for new drama “Life on Mars” at 10 p.m.

“Wife Swap” and “Supernanny” launch new episodes Friday, Oct. 3, joining newsmag “20/20,” which actually starts its new season Sept. 19.

Then there’s Sunday, which is back Sept. 28 with a two-hour “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” followed by “Desperate Housewives” and “Brothers & Sisters.” The following week, “America’s Funniest Home Videos” is back at 7 p.m.

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