ABC’s Slate Gets Two New Shows for Fall

May 13, 2008  •  Post A Comment

ABC’s 2008 fall schedule looks a lot like its 2007 fall schedule.
As expected, the network Tuesday took the wraps off of a 2008-09 lineup that contains very few changes. Indeed, three nights—Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday—return completely intact. The other four nights contain just minor tweaks, with only two new shows and just a handful of time-slot changes.
“We’re returning our dominant core group of shows from last fall,” ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson said.
And while other networks, including NBC and The CW, have indicated their intention to start their seasons early, ABC will stick to a fairly traditional launch pattern, rolling out most of its new and returning fare during premiere week, Mr. McPherson said.
ABC’s stable schedule wasn’t a surprise. Executives at the network have been signaling for weeks their intention to take a conservative approach to the fourth quarter.
The reasoning behind ABC’s decision is two-fold.
First, the network doesn’t have a lot of holes to fill and can afford to play a relatively pat hand. “We were winning, before the strike,” Mr. McPherson said, noting the success ABC had in launching new shows last fall.
Second, ABC decided not to speed up its development process to adjust for the delays caused by the strike. Rather than rush projects to pilot, ABC has been taking a go-slow approach to development and instead is focusing on midseason launches for new shows.
Mr. McPherson noted that midseason was the time of the year when ABC has the most opportunities to get new shows scheduled and sampled. He said ABC is in the midst of working on no less than 17 pilots for possible late 2008 or early 2009 premieres.
Look for ABC to pick up some new comedies by midsummer, Mr. McPherson said. A wave of drama pickups is likely by September.
Mr. McPherson made a point of noting that ABC didn’t want to pick up or announce projects that it had not yet piloted. “I believe in the network R&D process,” he said, a subtle dig at rival NBC, which has been greenlighting some scripts to series before shooting a pilot.
“We don’t lower the bar just to fill time periods,” he said.
ABC’s big drama gun for the fourth quarter will be “Life on Mars,” a long-in-the-works adaptation of the BBC drama of the same name. David E. Kelley had been involved but is dropping out.
The retro cop show—which features a detective from the present day who ends up traveling back to the 1970s—is getting one of ABC’s best time slots: Thursdays at 10, behind “Grey’s Anatomy.”
ABC will replace a few cast members and reshoot some key scenes. But Mr. McPherson said the show would be ready to premiere in the early fall.
On the unscripted side, ABC will roll out “Opportunity Knocks,” a game show from executive producers Ashton Kutcher and J.D. Roth. “It’s a cross between ‘Extreme Makeover’ and ‘[Who Wants to Be a] Millionaire,’” Mr. McPherson said.
“Opportunity” will air Tuesdays at 8.
Shows on the move at ABC include “Boston Legal” and “Eli Stone,” which shift to the 10 p.m. slot on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
McPherson also told reporters Tuesday that “Legal’s” next season would be its last. He said the network had ordered only 13 episodes, not the 22 episodes ordered on most returning series.
Mr. McPherson said “Legal” creator David E. Kelley would write “almost every episode” of “Legal’s” final season, particularly since Kelley is no longer going to play an active role in “Life on Mars.”
ABC had been considering canceling “Legal” altogether, people familiar with the network’s thinking said. But Mr. Kelley insisted on a “Legal” reprise as a condition of allowing “Mars” to continue without his services.
Meanwhile, Mr. McPherson said “Scrubs”— which will produce 18 episodes for ABC next season—might continue beyond next season. He said a new character being introduced by creator Bill Lawrence might provide enough storyline juice to keep the medical comedy going.
“Scrubs” likely won’t make its debut until late November. That’s because the show will spell the “Dancing With the Stars” results show Tuesdays at 9. In January, it will be joined by animated comedy “The Goode Family.”
Some reporters seem surprised by Mr. McPherson’s pickup of “Scrubs.” However, the move makes sense financially: ABC is getting the series at a relatively inexpensive license fee, while sister studio ABC Studios will reap millions from the extra episodes it can now syndicate.
Mr. McPherson also noted “Scrubs” had had “like 17 different time slots on NBC and no promotion”—yet still managed a solid demo rating.
Other highlights of ABC’s presentation to reporters Tuesday:
— There won’t be a second season of the Oprah Winfrey reality show “The Big Give.”
“We would’ve done another season if she had been interested,” Mr. McPherson said. “It was something she didn’t want to continue.”
Ms. Winfrey’s decision probably isn’t too painful for ABC. While “The Big Give” debuted with big numbers, it lost audience as it went forward, making it a moderate—but not blockbuster—success.
ABC has been developing another project with Ms. Winfrey, but that show is on hold for now, Mr. McPherson said.
–The Writers Guild of America strike “was absolutely destructive” to network TV, Mr. McPherson said. He said a Screen Actors Guild strike “would be a catastrophe. It would be exponentially worse.”
–Mr. McPherson said it was “an odd time” for Jay Leno to be leaving “The Tonight Show,” since his show dominates its time period. Reporters tried to goad him into expressing a desire to land Mr. Leno, but Mr. McPherson instead offered high praise for current late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. “I think he’s the hippest host out there right now,” he said.
Mr. McPherson said that, if ABC were to begin talking to Mr. Leno, the conversations would be “completely transparent with Jimmy.”

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