Nobody could ever accuse Steve McPherson of being risk-averse.
After coming achingly close to a first-place finish this season, the ABC Entertainment prexy has decided to give his net’s primetime lineup a radical makeover by adding at least one new hour of programming every night of the week but Monday.
A whopping nine shows are slated to bow in the fourth quarter, with no less than 15 skeins on deck for the full season. That’s more than the expected combined order at chief rivals CBS and Fox.
Strategy is designed to spread the net’s success from Sunday to other nights of the week, first by shifting monster hit “Grey’s Anatomy” to Thursday nights at 9 (Daily Variety, May 16).
It’s a major roll of the dice, especially for a net that on the surface seemed just a hit away from first place. McPherson said a strong development season convinced him that now was the time to make changes.
“I think you have to be aggressive and you have to play the cards you’re dealt,” McPherson told reporters at a Tuesday ayem press conference. “We have good cards right now.”
As if to underscore the gamble, McPherson stopped the show at ABC’s Tuesday Lincoln Center upfront with a potentially embarrassing ballroom dancing number choreographed to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” He pulled it off without a hitch, earning a standing ovation from the Madison Avenue crowd.
“What the hell was that?” he quipped.
As for “Grey’s” scheduling, ABC’s move could have an immediate impact on rivals, particularly NBC. Peacock just announced its intention to slot Aaron Sorkin’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” Thursdays at 9. Keeping the show there now that “Grey’s” will be in the slot seems a suicide mission.
Peacock rep didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Medical drama could put a dent in CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” but the latter skein should still do fine. In a way, CBS dodged a bullet: A rumored shift of “Grey’s” to 9 p.m. Mondays could have been fatal to the Eye’s comedy lineup.
McPherson said separating Sunday sensations “Grey’s” and “Desperate Housewives” was an acknowledgment that “Grey’s” has come into its own.
“We feel like it’s a show that deserves its own night,” McPherson said. “I think there is plenty of room for both (“Grey’s” and “CSI”). … It establishes another strong place on the schedule for us.”
There had been industry buzz for months that “Grey’s” was headed for Mondays. But McPherson said he liked the way the net’s current mix of reality shows and drama “What About Brian” had worked out.
“Our Monday is strong in (viewers) 18-34. We’ve found a great replacement for football,” he said.
Bracketing “Grey’s” on Thursday will be a pair of new comedies in the 8 o’clock hour and, at 10, the J.J. Abrams drama “Six Degrees,” which will be competing against “ER” and whatever CBS ends up slotting there.
Alphabet’s vaunted hype machine already has started touting “Six Degrees,” with ABC airing a promo for the show during Monday’s second-season finale of “Grey’s.” While nets have touted fall shows in May before, it’s the first time in memory that a net has promoted a new show before its upfront presentation.
Not on ABC’s Thursday sked: long-running newsmag “Primetime.” ABC has ordered a full season of the show, and will use it as a midseason replacement — perhaps in multiepisode, single-topic arcs.
“We’ll use them to fill holes throughout the season,” he said.
Move is another blow to the struggling newsmag genre, with NBC this week cutting back “Dateline” to one lone Saturday airing. CBS will announce today whether “48 Hours” will join “60 Minutes” on its sked.
With “Grey’s” ankling Sunday, ABC will fill the plum post-“Desperate Housewives” Sunday timeslot with family drama “Brothers and Sisters.”
Without football, Mondays will continue as a female-driven destination with new seasons of “Wife Swap” at 8 pm, followed by “The Bachelor” (this time from Rome) and renewed drama “What About Brian.” “Supernanny” will take over the 9 p.m. timeslot of “The Bachelor” later in the season.
As expected, ABC will roll out “Lost” in two big chunks. Seven consecutive episodes of the show will air in the fall, McPherson said, with thriller “Day Break,” starring Taye Diggs, taking over in the early winter. “Lost” then will return for an uninterrupted run starting in January or early February.
Not airing reruns of “Lost” means a hit to ABC’s bottom line, but McPherson thinks the move is needed.
“It’s a more expensive schedule, but I think the audience is more demanding now,” McPherson said. “The audience has so much more choice, we have to work more originals into our schedule. … Giving the audience what they want is something we’re charged with doing.”
McPherson also confirmed “Commander in Chief” might still have life, saying ABC execs were debating the merits of a potential two-hour movie from creator Rod Lurie (Daily Variety, May 16). Pic in theory could serve as a backdoor pilot to revive the series, but no agreements are yet in place.
ABC chief admitted disappointment with what happened to “Chief” over its first season.
“Creatively, the show didn’t build to where it needs to be,” McPherson said. “It’s a frustration when the show isn’t executed up to the level of the pilot.”
Like NBC, ABC is bringing back just two shows launched last season: “Dancing With the Stars” and “What About Brian.” Also of note: All of the Alphabet’s fall laffers are single-camera comedies, a departure for a net historically known for multicamera hits from “Roseanne” to “Home Improvement.”
McPherson added a note of realism to this week’s blizzard of hype surrounding new platforms and technologies, noting they’re not his priority.
“I spend most of my time worrying about the content,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what drives everything else.”
McPherson’s boss, Disney ABC TV Group topper Anne Sweeney, underscored that message at the net’s upfront. She teased the audience into believing she was about to unveil the “ultimate” media viewing device, hinting it was a new iPod. Instead, she took the wraps off a television set from the 1970s.
“The ABC television network will always be our primary platform,” she said.
Brad Adgate, research director at Horizon Media, seemed a bit surprised by the depth of changes in ABC’s sked.
“For a broadcast net that is very close to winning adults 18-49, they are being very aggressive in moving ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and putting on new shows,” he said.
Alphabet casualties include “Freddie,” “Invasion,” “The Evidence,” “Emily’s Reasons Why Not,” “Rodney,” “Jake in Progress,” “Hope & Faith,” “Sons & Daughters,” “Less Than Perfect,” “Hot Properties,” “Night Stalker,” “In Justice” and “Miracle Workers.”
(Michael Learmonth contributed to this report.)
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Stars: Jonathan Silverman, David Arquette, Greg Germann, Kelly Hu, Lori Loughlin, Nicholas Roget-King
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Donal Logue, Maz Jobrani, Sofia Vergara, Kevin Michael Richardson
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Notes From the Underbelly WBTV
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Stars: Peter Cambor, Jennifer Westfeldt, Melanie Paxson, Rachael Harris
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Brothers & Sisters Touchstone
Creator/Exec producers: Jon Robin Baitz, Ken Olin, Marti Noxon
Stars: Jonathan LaPaglia, Ron Rifkin, Balthazar Getty, Calista Flockhart, Patricia Wettig, Betty Buckley, Rachel Griffiths
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Creator/Exec producers: Paul Zbyszewski, Matthew Gross, Jeffrey Bell, Rob Bowman
Stars: Taye Diggs, Adam Baldwin, Moon Bloodgood, Ramon Rodriguez, Meta Golding, Victoria Pratt
Logline: Detective lives the same bad day over and over
Men in Trees WBTV
Creator/Exec producers: Jenny Bicks, Cathy Konrad, James Mangold
Stars: Anne Heche, Abraham Benrubi, James Tupper, John Amos
Logline: Woman surrounded by available men in Alaska
The Nine WBTV
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Creators/Exec producers: Raven Metzner, Stu Zicherman,J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk
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Logline: Strangers lives intertwine in New York
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Stars: Matthew Bomer, Logan Marshall-Green, Aaron Stanford, Steven Culp, Viola Davis
Logline: Duo falsely framed as terrorists