McPherson: 'Lost' on track, ready for marathon

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PASADENA -- Speaking to the assembled television press bright and early on Sunday morning, ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson -- more relaxed and jovial than during similar sessions in recent years -- insisted that despite claims that the megahit "Lost" had literally lost its way creatively during the kickoff of its third season this past fall, he believes the show is in fine shape, thanks very much.

?"You know, I liked it. I think that (executive producers) Damon (Lindelof) and Carlton (Cuse) made a clear choice that that first installment would be really about the experience of Jack and Kate and Sawyer and The Others," McPherson said. "I thought it was really a riveting six episodes, and the production values, I think they exceeded even their own standards. But I like it when they're all together, and I think we're headed toward that when you come back after (the hiatus)."

Indeed, some have criticized the decision to launch "Lost" in the fall for seven weeks and then give it a four-month rest throughout much of the fall and winter. (It returns to ABC's schedule next month.) In hindsight, McPherson admits this way have been something of a mistake in hindsight and looks to go the route Fox does with "24," running all 20-something episodes consecutively with no repeats, next year.

"I even said last fall, ideally the way you would do 'Lost' is 22 straight (episodes), 23 straight, as many as we had done," McPherson said. "I think for us, given where we were in our development, we really needed to (launch it) in the fall. ... I think coming into next fall there's a good chance we would run it 22 straight either in the fall or in the spring."

?McPherson also spoke to the idea that committing to so many serialized dramas last fall may well have been a tactical error, certainly considering the weak performances of "The Nine" and "Daybreak." But he stands behind having committed to them despite his admission they were both "big disappointments."

?"The shows were incredibly well-produced," he maintained. "We loved the shows creatively. ... It may have just been the timing."

The programming guru added that both "The Nine" and the poorly rated freshman drama "Six Degrees" still have a chance to return to the sked this spring despite having been pulled. "Six Degrees," in fact, is currently in production to finish out its original 13-episode order.

?In the main McPherson stressed that things are pretty good in ABC-ville. The ballyhooed move of "Grey's Anatomy" to Thursdays opposite "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" this season has worked out better than anyone could have expected, with "Grey's" regularly beating "CSI" in the coveted adults 18-49 column, and "we have two of the top three new shows in 'Ugly Betty' and 'Brothers & Sisters,'" he pointed out. "We're up in total viewers on Monday night without 'Monday Night Football.' We're the number one network 18-49."

That said, many of ABC's rookie series have struggled to find their footing. That includes the comedy "The Knights of Prosperity," a half-hour built around the antics of an oddball group of New Yorkers who set their sights on robbing Mick Jagger. But McPherson maintains he is still committed to the genre. "The great thing is that people are taking chances," he believes. "I mean, for us, taking chances is what redefined us. ... We hope we can get a bigger audience for (comedies). But I also don't think that the sitcom is dead. I don't think I could point to a great multicamera show that has been put on the air, marketed well, and failed. So it's frustrating. It's challenging. We definitely want bigger audiences for them. I believe that comedy is due to kind of explode."

?McPherson gamely fielded a number of other conversation threads during the Q&A that ranged from his opinion of the controversial "The Path to 9/11" -- which he said the network "loved" and stood by despite accusations that key facts were distorted to make the Clinton administration look bad -- to the bleak state of TV movies on broadcast TV.

McPherson noted that ABC is likely to go the entire season without airing a made-for ("Path to 9/11" aired on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks and outside of the regular season.) but he said he still believed there were "select opportunities" for longform programming on the network. McPherson's sole news bulletin for the scribes who turned out for his Sunday early-a.m. session was that "Dancing with the Stars" will return to ABC's schedule with a pair of two-hour editions on March 19 and 26.

Ray Richmond is covering the press tour daily on his blog, pastdeadline.com
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