In Depth

ABC’s McPherson Wants More Sitcoms

ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson said he’d like to expand the network’s comedy portfolio by adding more traditional sitcoms to its programming mix.

The network once dominated the comedy space with meat-and-potatoes half-hours such as “Roseanne” and “Home Improvement.” But while ABC has had plenty of success with dramas, its only mildly successful comedy in recent years has been the single-camera “Samantha Who?”

Mr. McPherson, speaking to reporters Friday at ABC’s portion of the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour, said he’s hoping to greenlight several multicamera half-hours when the network picks up its comedy pilots in the next few weeks.

“A lot of comedies on the air now are observational,” Mr. McPherson said. “There’s an intimacy missing when the sitcom isn’t on the air. I think there’s a place for it.”

Mr. McPherson said he still enjoys watching repeats of shows such as “Seinfeld” and “Home Improvement,” and explained that viewers right now are looking for “comfort food” to help them through difficult times.

As with all press tour sessions this week, the economy’s impact on programming was a key theme of Mr. McPherson’s session.

“We’re in one of the worst economies in 70 years, if not a century,” Mr. McPherson said. “We’re looking at everything we can do to be more effective. We have to look at everything across the board, from cost-cutting … to smarter ways to program our network. The world has shifted underneath these businesses. We need to be incredibly bold.”

Mr. McPherson also said he was happy about NBC’s decision to dump drama programming at 10 p.m. in favor of stripping a Jay Leno comedy show.

“It opens up beachfront real estate to less bidders,” he said. “We’re hoping there are viewers who are left behind (by NBC) that we can grab.”

With Mr. Leno now no longer a near-term possibility for ABC’s late-night schedule, Mr. McPherson said the network once again was discussing the best strategy for “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

“We’re looking at everything. It changes the landscape,” he said, adding that moving Mr. Kimmel is still a possibility, as is finding new ways to promote the show in its current timeslot.

A big chunk of Mr. McPherson’s session with journalists was dominated by questions regarding the creative direction of ABC’s hit Thursday soap opera “Grey’s Anatomy.” The ABC executive tackled critics’ concerns head on, hinting that creator Shonda Rhimes was aware of viewers’ complaints about the show’s controversial Izzie-Denny storyline.

“I think shows ebb and flow, especially the kinds of shows we have,” he said. “Shonda is one of, if not the most, talented women writer out there. I think she’s responded to the criticism extremely well.”

Mr. McPherson also said that viewers will better understand the Denny-Izzie storyline when the season is over.

On other matters:

—Mr. McPherson said definitively that ABC would not be picking up 20th Century Fox TV’s “King of the Hill.” With Fox saying it has no plans to order more episodes, the show may be dead.

—ABC’s new animated half-hour “The Goode Family” may not premiere until May, Mr. McPherson said. The network expects to announce the rest of its spring premieres in the next few weeks.

—Mr. McPherson said “According to Jim” is “probably (in) its final run. But you never say never. … ‘Jim’ has been an amazing asset for us.”