Kimmel presses the Leno issue

Late-night host grills ABC chief McPherson about replacement rumors

Jimmy Kimmel's follow-up to his "I'm F***ing Ben Affleck and Matt Damon" videos? "I'm grilling Steve McPherson."

In a rehearsed bit during the executive session of ABC's presentation at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour, Kimmel, posing as a small-town TV critic, bombarded the ABC entertainment president with charged, over-the-top questions about the rumored move of "The Tonight Show" host Jay Leno to ABC that would affect Kimmel's late-night show there.

The line of questioning, which alternated between such jabs as "If you were even to talk to Jay Leno, wouldn't that be like contract tampering? Wouldn't that be illegal? Couldn't you go to jail for that?" and inquiries about McPherson's hair and name pronunciation, culminated with a question touching on Kimmel's future at ABC: "Are you at all afraid that if you do replace Jimmy Kimmel, he might do something crazy to you or your car?" Kimmel asked, prompting a response from McPherson, "Yes, actually, very afraid."

McPherson later addressed the issue on a more serious note, praising Kimmel and taking a shot at NBC for taking Leno off "Tonight."

"I can't believe that they're going to let this guy go at the top of his game, and if that happens, I guess we'll look at it at the time, and Jimmy will be involved in those discussions," McPherson said.

That is the extent of dissing the competitors that McPherson went to this year, a stark contrast from last summer's press tour when he made headlines with his infamous "Be a man" jab at NBC rival Ben Silverman.

This time around, McPherson said he will be rooting for his competitors as broadcast nets are looking to recover from the ratings slump caused in part by the WGA strike.

"I really can't emphasize enough that I'm rooting for all of broadcast television in the fall," McPherson said. "I think it's really important, as all networks, to get people back in the fall and get them excited again."

In a deviation from the traditional pilot model, ABC opted not to shoot pilots during the spring cycle that was truncated by the strike. The network is in the midst of filming its pilots and plans to screen them in late August, with the picked-up series eyed for launches in November, January or March, McPherson said.

Although it is moving toward year-round development, ABC is planning to keep the decision-making process structured, with fall, January-March and summer as "the three big tentpoles" for series pickups.

"I don't think it's going to be a process where you are just going to randomly have pilots throughout the year," he said.

ABC will roll out most of its fall schedule during the premiere week of Sept. 22. Among the exceptions: Last fall's Wednesday lineup of "Pushing Daisies," "Private Practice" and "Dirty Sexy Money" will return Oct. 1; Friday's reality block of "Wife Swap" and "Supernanny" will debut Oct. 3; "Samantha Who?" will be back Oct. 6; new series "Life on Mars" will premiere Oct. 9; while "Eli Stone" will come back Oct. 14.

Other headlines from ABC's executive session:

> "Grey's Anatomy" disgruntled co-star Katherine Heigl is not leaving. "She's absolutely staying with the show," McPherson said. "There's an unbelievable story line for her this year, which is really central to everything that's going to go on this season."

> "Grey's" spinoff "Private Practice" is undergoing a tonal makeover and will be more medical drama and less soap opera in its second season.

> McPherson confirmed that the network is exploring the possibility for extending "Scrubs" beyond its upcoming eight season and first on ABC.

> In success, some of the network's sophomore series — which started production early as they didn't return on the air after the strike — might get expanded orders for as many as 24 episodes.

> Summer standout "Wipeout" will be picked up for more episodes, potentially as a summer franchise.

> David E. Kelley will write all 13 episodes of the final season of his "Boston Legal." (partialdiff)
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