ABC prexy, show creator discuss end of series at TCA

ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee defended his decision to end “Desperate Housewives” this season with some assistance from the show’s creator, Marc Cherry, who joined him on stage at the TCA press tour on Sunday.

Both men echoed the notion that they wanted the long-running series to go out on a high note. “I just want to make sure this network that put this show on the map had its victory lap,” said Lee.

“I wanted to go out while the network still saw us as a viable show while we we’re still doing well in the ratings,” said Cherry. “I wanted to go out in the classiest way possible.”

Discussions of whether to end with the conclusion of the coming eighth season or go for a ninth had been going on between Cherry and Lee since he stepped in for Steve McPherson around this time last year. Cherry recalled with amusement how he initially drew some flak for calling McPherson “my guy” after Lee was hired, only to learn he had a new ally when Lee didn’t object to his predecessor getting some gratitude. “At that moment, Paul was my guy as well,” said Lee.

While the conclusion of “Housewives” dominated ABC’s press conference, Lee also sought to demonstrate the strength of his network heading into a season in which it faces the risk of slipping into fourth place given NBC will have Super Bowl, “Sunday Night Football” and “The Voice.” But he noted the Alphabet has some momentum of its own having finished second in 18-49 in the final seven weeks of the previous season. ABC is also on its way to winning in that demo for the summer.

Lee also emphasized how intensely focused the network is on the midseason, where series including “The River,” “Missing,” “Scandal,” and “GCB” are awaiting premiere dates with powerful promotional potential including the Academy Awards and the NBA Finals.

“What we dont’ want to do is have all our best shows all together,” said Lee. “We want to stagger that for the whole year.”

Lee was faced with a lot of questions about the preponderance of lead female characters in the new crop of shows, which he explained wasn’t a conscious choice but strategically savvy given affluent female viewers are a demographic sweet spot for ABC.

He also discussed ABC’s decision to bring the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” movie franchise to the network after CBS opted not to continue with it. Citing his experience with original movies in his previous post as president of ABC Family, he said this declining genre shouldn’t be underestimated. “I came from a network where movies can really punch (up) your ratings,” he said.

Lee also spoke of the importance of taking creative risks in broadcast TV. On that front, he reiterated his interest in bringing a superhero property to air from Marvel, which is owned by ABC parent company Walt Disney Co. He identified The Hulk and Jessica Jones as two characters in the Marvel stable that will be in the development mix for the 2012-13 season. He also revealed that an unspecified Marvel character will figure into an episode of “Castle” this season.

Superheros may be something of a big theme in development over the next few months, as CW president Mark Pedowitz said he’s exploring drafting characters into primetime created by DC Comics, a division of corporate sibling Warner Bros.

Lee and Cherry also addressed “Hallelujah,” a drama pilot Cherry created that Lee passed on for this season but is currently being redeveloped for future consideration. “I think our attitude about ‘Hallelujah’ is we will do it when it’s right,” said Cherry. “It’s so unusual in tone and aspiration that you kinda have to get it perfect. It’s a big swing.”

“Hallelujah” is the quirky story of a fictional small town in Tennessee where the battle between good and evil takes place. Jesse L. Martin (“Law & Order”) is attached to star.

Cherry said he isn’t likely to explore a “Housewives” spinoff given his interest in trying new material, though he joked that he felt so attached to one of the series’ stars, Eva Longoria, that he joked with her that he wanted to do a new show with her in which “I’m just going to put you in a van and solve mysteries.”

To which Lee quickly responded from the TCA stage: “Bought! Done!”

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