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James Hibberd

'Lost' in Translation

July 25, 2007 1:06 PM

ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson is dressed entirely in black, sitting on the TCA stage, before a large wall of deep red screens.


Those familiar with McPherson’s temper might see this as a fittingly devilish visual. But the way critics abruptly turn hostile over ABC withholding a single bit of spectacularly minor “Lost” news, the setting is more appropriate to depict McPherson as having a hellacious TCA experience.

Things start out fine. McPherson touted coming off a season with two of the three biggest break-out new shows (“Ugly Betty,” “Brothers and Sisters”). “We feel really good about where we ended up,” he says.

Critics ask about ABC’s summer strategy (the network is running in fourth place right now). McPherson says next summer the network will try to stock its lineup with scripted drama and comedy.

McPherson confirmed formerly hot pilots “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “Football Wives” are dead. He touts the amount of online interest in “National Bingo Night” that prompted its renewal.

McPherson also defends the “Pushing Daises” time period, a show critics are concerned will get overlooked in its 8 p.m. Wednesday slot. “[Daises] doesn’t fit neatly behind any show because of its originality,” he says. “It’s a family show. … We think it’s a good anchor for the night.”

Several critics mention “Cavemen,” asking whether the cavemen-as-ethic-minority angle is the best way to adapt the Geico ads. “The commercials are a one-joke thing,” McPherson says. “The nature of this series is to explore a group that is a minority and all the things and stereotypes that go along with that. If you just did the commercials on a 30- minute basis, that wouldn’t work.”

The trouble starts when a critic asks about a rumored announcement that ABC is planning regarding “Lost” tomorrow at Comic-Con and McPherson declines to reveal the news.

“They do have some announcements they are going to be making that I think everyone will be pretty excited about,” McPherson says.

Which seems like a perfectly acceptable response. But then the Star Jones Effect kicks in. Just like when Jones declared she was holding back a piece of news for a future venue, critics are quickly incensed that ABC seems to regard a convention of comic-book fans as more important than themselves. Fueling the fire is the fact that, unlike other broadcasters, ABC doesn’t have any TCA announcements, so this mysterious news nugget feels highly valuable.

“Do you want us to go to Comic-Con tomorrow instead of this session?” a critic asks.

McPherson tries to joke it off. “Let’s go now. You want to go?”

Questions move on to other topics, then quickly circle back: “I don’t think my editor is going to be very happy when she reads on a blog later this afternoon that Steve McPherson promised that the biggest news regarding one of the highest-rated shows on the network would be coming at a fan convention the next day,” a critic says.

Then another: “Not to be a crybaby … [but] what’s the point of having 150 reporters with access with millions of readers sitting here?”

Again, McPherson tries for a joke. “OK, I’ll give you the announcement … I cast Don Imus on ‘Lost.’”

Few are amused. Yet another critic: “This is a serious question. Newspapers spend a lot of money to get us out here. A lot of us are fighting to stay out here. We write about all your television shows. If you are not going to tell us what it is, you can at least tell us why you’re not telling us.”

McPherson: “Comic-Con has been a place that ‘Lost’ has had its presence for a long time. They have an announcement that [showrunner Damon Lindelof] wanted to make at Comic-Con. … It’s not earth-shattering. … It’s not going to change the face of television.”

Suddenly ABC publicity executive Hope Hartman crosses the stage and whispers to McPherson. The room goes quiet.

McPherson says: “All right. They just spoke to Damon. From the fury that we had … it is going to be announced that Harold Perrineau is returning to the show.”

The air goes out of the room. That’s it?


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