Network also gives second season order to 'The Middle'

ABC is keen on its comedies.

ABC Entertainment Group prexy Steve McPherson announced Tuesday that he had given early second-season orders to Wednesday night frosh comedies “Modern Family,” “Cougar Town” and “The Middle.” Net also greenlit “Mr. Sunshine,” a pilot starring “Friends” alum Matthew Perry, from Sony Pictures TV.

All three shows have helped establish a laffer block for the network, which hasn’t had much success with sitcoms in recent years.

It also validates the gamble ABC took in launching a two-hour block of new series in the fall.

Of those four comedies, “Modern Family” has been a breakout hit, while “Hank” didn’t make it to midseason. “Cougar Town” and “The Middle” have also been earning strong notices from critics.

As a block, “The Middle,” “Modern Family” and “Cougar Town” are outperforming the net’s average in the timeslot last year with “Pushing Daisies” and “Private Practice.”

Renewals spread the wealth among studios: “Modern Family” comes from 20th Century Fox TV; “Cougar Town,” from ABC TV Studios; and “The Middle,” from Warner Bros. TV. “Mr. Sunshine,” about a sports arena manager going through a midlife crisis, is exec produced by Perry, Jamie Tarses and Thomas Schlamme, who will helm the pilot penned co-written by Perry, Alex Barnow and Marc Firek from Perry’s original idea.

Speaking to critics at the press tour, McPherson reiterated ABC’s position that it wasn’t interested in pursuing Conan O’Brien and wouldn’t move Jimmy Kimmel to make room.

“We don’t have any plans to change our latenight right now,” he said. “I love Kimmel. He’s been amazing. (We’re about to) launch a new strategic marketing plan for them. Our intention is really to embrace him and bring him as part of the ABC brand as opposed to this offshoot.”

Asked about NBC’s 10 p.m. mess, McPherson — usually quick to throw a barb toward the Peacock — bit his tongue by quipping, “There are probably too many jokes to make.”

The exec said he was happy to see NBC put an emphasis “back on great creative.”

“It’s what people expect in those time periods,” he said. “Seeing a great network tumble is not something we rejoice over… It’s like playing for the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox decided not to play baseball.”

One reporter then questioned how McPherson would have handled the 10 p.m. situation “if it were him” — and the exec couldn’t resist one quick barb.

“If it were me, I wouldn’t be in this situation,” he said.

McPherson also said he didn’t think Simon Cowell’s switch from “American Idol” to “The X-Factor” would give ABC much of a break in primetime. “(Cowell is) an incredibly important part of ‘Idol,'” McPherson said. “But it’s not like he’s going back to England. So it’s not some giant win.”

Speaking of NBC, McPherson also took the Peacock’s Jeff Gaspin to task for saying that ABC was down a tenth of a ratings point at 10 p.m.

“We’re actually up 8%-10%,” he argued.

The execs were citing two different numbers, however. Gaspin was referring to weekday live-plus-same-day numbers at 10 p.m., while McPherson was referring to ABC’s scripted series perf in the hour on Mondays through Thursdays.

Separately, ABC also announced the pickup of “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” which follows the celeb U.K. chef as he travels to Huntington, W.Va., in order to launch a new healthy cooking initiative.

Show, from Ryan Seacrest Prods. and Fresh One Prods., will air Fridays at 9 p.m. starting March 26.

And McPherson confirmed the net is at work on a spinoff for “The Bachelor.” The new entry, “Bachelor Pad,” will run in late summer as a bridge between “The Bachelorette” and the fall sked. Show, hosted by Chris Harrison, features former “Bachelor” contestants sexing things up in a house (which will likely need a good scrubbing afterward).

ABC’s other big reality franchise, “Dancing With the Stars,” is back Monday, March 22. McPherson said the show would include fewer contestants this season.

Net also hinted at good news for Monday night drama “Castle.” McPherson threw his support behind the show — and Disney’s Hyperion Books announced that the latest “Castle” novel will be released in September. (It would be pretty strange to release the untitled novel — the second “written” by the show’s fictional lead — if “Castle” is canceled.)

News is tougher for “Better Off Ted” and “Scrubs,” both of which have been challenged — despite strong reviews, in particular, for “Ted” this season.

“We have obviously been disappointed with the way ‘Ted’ performed,” McPherson said.

Among the permanent possibilities for “Hank’s” Wednesday 8 p.m. slot are the Alyssa Milano laffer “Romantically Challenged,” but the network isn’t ready to announce it there yet.

Then there’s critic favorite “Conveyor Belt of Love.” McPherson said it was still too soon to announce a return for the special but hinted that the net wasn’t done with the concept yet. “How can we be done with such a genius show?” he quipped.

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