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Hits like “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” have helped reverse ABC’s fortunes, but primetime entertainment prexy Steve McPherson isn’t popping the champagne just yet.

Speaking to reporters Sunday, the final day of the Winter 2005 Television Critics Assn. press tour, the cautious programming topper said he was encouraged by the net’s ratings gains, but his job wasn’t done.

“Bragging rights for second, third or fourth place is kind of silly,” McPherson said. “We’re looking to have more improvement — we’ve got it on four of seven nights.”

The mood was also casual Saturday during the WB’s portion of the tour, as entertainment president David Janollari said the Frog needed a breakout hit or two “to take us to another level.”

“ABC did it overnight, while CBS did it in eight years,” Janollari said. “I’d like to be somewhere in between.”

Despite ABC’s quick re-emergence as a serious contender in adults 18-49, McPherson resisted the temptation to do a victory lap.

“I’m not about spin,” he said. “We have a long way to go. I’m managing expectations. We are a hungry group. We have to keep up that hunger. The work will speak for itself.”

Next up, McPherson said he hoped to strengthen the net’s stable of 10 p.m. shows, adding the net was on the prowl for a procedural drama hit.

ABC — which focused heavily on family-oriented laffers in recent years — also is rethinking its comedy strategy. Net plans to test the “TGIF” brand with audiences in the coming weeks to see if it’s still viable.

“We didn’t do our best job creatively or strategically launching Friday,” McPherson said.

Pointing out that there is a “whole new set of viewers coming to ABC,” McPherson said he would look at developing more sitcoms like the net’s upcoming John Stamos vehicle “Jake in Progress.”

“I don’t think you can do a sitcom about a nuclear family again,” he said. It’s going to be “broader than what we now have.”

As for summer, ABC will continue to air repeats of skeins such as “Housewives” and “Lost.” Beyond that, it’s a good bet the Rome-inspired epic “Empire” will land there.

“We have the NBA at the end of spring; it’s an opportunity for us, a good platform,” he said. “But I don’t think we look at summer as some revolution.”

Also during the ABC session:

  • Life appears to be over for “Life as We Know It.” Net hasn’t picked up any episodes beyond the show’s initial 13 segs, which struggled in a tough Thursday timeslot.

“It’s been one of my frustrations,” McPherson said about the show’s perf. “Sometimes you do your best and you come up short.”

  • McPherson said he was surprised at the amount of outrage over the clip of “Desperate Housewives” star Nicollette Sheridan that aired before a “Monday Night Football” telecast.

Exec said the sketch was originally conceived as a bigger goof, with Sheridan dropping her towel in front of “MNF’s” John Madden.

“It was a whole lot of nothing,” McPherson said of the controversy. “I’m surprised at the play it’s got.”

  • Speaking of “Monday Night Football,” ABC and sib ESPN haven’t hammered out a new contract with the NFL yet, but McPherson said he expected the franchise would return.

  • ABC will air a one-hour “NYPD Blue” retrospective prior to its finale.

  • McPherson said he believed it “sounds like” he’s been given more autonomy by Disney and ABC brass than his predecessors (who frequently grew frustrated with the number of cooks in the Alphabet kitchen).

Tadpole target

As for the WB, Frog chairman Garth Ancier affirmed the net’s desire to target the “elusive 18-34 and teen audience.”

“We have established ourselves as the network for 12- to 24-year-olds, and our goal is to be the network for 25- to 35-year-olds as well,” he said.

Janollari, meanwhile, said he hoped to build on the WB’s “legacy of elegance” as it hits its 10th anniversary by developing with names such as David E. Kelley, Tom Fontana, Jerry Bruckheimer, McG and Bill Lawrence. Janollari also confirmed the WB has signed on with “Will & Grace” creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan to develop a sitcom vehicle for Sara Gilbert, to be exec produced by Kari Lizer (Daily Variety, Jan. 21).

Also at the Frog, Janollari said he was “determined” to find an audience for critically acclaimed but low-rated drama “Jack & Bobby.”

And net execs said they learned an expensive lesson with the disappointing ratings for its presentation of the first “Lord of the Rings” movie.

“We’re not actively and aggressively looking to buy theatrical movies right now,” Janollari said.