ABC doctors up sked with dozen
New 'Grey's' spinoff key as net shores up Wed. lineupABC on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious 2007-08 primetime schedule featuring 12 new series and a rebuilt-from-scratch Wednesday night.
The task on Wednesday is not as daunting as it seems, according to ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson, who noted the network's strong track record the past two years building a formidable presence on Sundays and, most recently, on Thursdays with the move of "Grey's Anatomy" and on Mondays with NFL replacement "Dancing With the Stars."
"This takes us one step closer to being competitive every night of the week," McPherson told ad buyers gathered at Lincoln Center for ABC's upfront presentation.
McPherson didn't break into a dance like last year. But ABC stayed with its upfront tradition by offering a performance by the cast of "Ugly Betty" to the Broadway tune "One" and a performance of "How to Save a Life" by piano rock band the Fray.
Key to ABC's fall plans are the much-anticipated "Grey's" spinoff "Private Practice," which has been assigned a tentpole role Wednesdays at 9 p.m. sandwiched between a pair of newcomers, "Pushing Daisies" and "Dirty Sexy Money."
"Practice" will find itself against NBC's touted new action-drama "Bionic Woman" and possibly CBS' established "Criminal Minds," but McPherson believes the two-hour "Grey's" that introduced "Practice" will give the new series a leg up.
"It got great exposure on Thursday night," McPherson said at a Tuesday morning news conference. "I think rather than put a completely new show on, the asset of a spinoff is that it is a known entity that has a tremendous amount of publicity behind it."
McPherson also acknowledged that "Practice," from "Grey's" creator Shonda Rhimes, has to flesh out its story lines more than its pilot did.
"We spent a lot of time introducing the characters but not enough time on the stories. We really have to hit the stories stronger. Once those characters are set up, what Shonda does brilliantly is the conflict between people."
The lucky pilot to inherit the post- "Grey's" slot on Thursday is "Big Shots," a male ensemble about four young CEOs.
In contrast to NBC — which accelerated its production cycle to stockpile additional episodes in anticipation of a potential strike — ABC has no such contingency plans.
"We're not changing what we do for the labor issue right now," McPherson said.
Alluding to NBC's plan to order extra episodes of series like "The Office," McPherson cautioned that taking a production into overdrive risks eroding the creative quality of a series.
"If we could do 47 'Desperate Housewives' we would, but we can't," he said. "I think you have to be careful not to push it too much."
Also, unlike NBC, which introduced not a single new comedy in the fall, ABC is rolling the dice on three new series: "Sam I Am," with Christina Applegate, after "Dancing With the Stars" on Monday, and the block of "Cavemen" and "Carpoolers" from 8-9 p.m. on Tuesday.
McPherson acknowledged that "Cavemen" will be a challenge for ABC given expected audience confusion over the distinction between the series and the Geico commercials that inspired it. To that end, Geico will keep those commercials off the air for an unspecified period.
The possibility remains that ABC and Geico may inject brand integration into the series, McPherson said, but for now the arrangement is a standard licensing deal.
He said he believes the series will demonstrate that it has more depth to mine beyond what 30-second spots have shown. "If we're just going to do a sketch about the cavemen, I don't think that would work at all," McPherson said.
During ABC's upfront presentation, the clip from "Cavemen" drew mixed reviews from audience members.
The big hit with media buyers, as usual, was ABC late-night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel, who made his fourth consecutive upfront appearance, landing a few punches on the network doing "Cavemen," the new game show "National Bingo Night" and setting a firm end date for "Lost."
"I think CBS has a similar plan for Katie Couric," Kimmel quipped.
ABC is returning 17 series from last season. The long-running comedy "George Lopez" is not coming back, while another veteran comedy, "According to Jim," has not been officially canceled; earlier on Tuesday, McPherson indicated that the network is trying to work out a deal on "Jim."
"Just having 17 returning shows is really key for us, some of which are breakout hits and some we're building and we're confident will be big assets for us," he said.
McPherson defended this season's ratings decline of "Lost," which ABC is keeping out of the fall lineup in order to air without a hiatus later in 2008. He noted that when examining the ratings for the seven days after the initial airdate, DVR recordings of the series have doubled since last season. He also noted that "Lost" is not likely to return at 10 p.m.
Also waiting for midseason slots are Oprah Winfrey's reality series "Oprah's Big Give" as well as the comedy "Miss/Guided," drama "Eli Stone" and veteran unscripted series "Supernanny."
Media buyers mostly liked what they saw Tuesday from ABC.
"Given where they are in the marketplace, I think they were really aggressive with 11 new shows," Horizon Media senior vp Brad Adgate said. Many of the shows, he said, featured upscale characters, like "Big Shots" and Darren Star's "Cashmere Mafia," which is set to succeed the "Dancing With the Stars" result show Tuesday.
"If sex and glamour sells, these guys have a hell of a season ahead of them," said Gene DeWitt of DeWitt Media. "They're building on strength. … It's a very smart strategy."
DeWitt liked "Private Practice," "Dirty Sexy Money," "Big Shots" and "Cashmere Mafia." He wasn't as thrilled with "Cavemen," though he said it might appeal to kids.
"(It's) risky at best," he said.