No time for the faint of heart

McPherson says ABC will be 'bold' in development despite economy

ABC entertainment president Stephen McPherson said his network needs to continue taking programming risks despite the economic downturn and plans a robust development slate for the fall.

Speaking Friday at the Television Critics Assn. winter press tour, McPherson said he plans to shoot 10 comedy and drama pilots for next season.

"We have to take swings at the plate, and we still have to be bold," he said, noting that shows that have worked best for the network, such as "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives," broke new creative ground. "We want to grow our brand and build off the success we have. … I don't want to do a total departure and do CBS-like shows."

The entertainment president also criticized Nielsen, saying that the ratings measurement company contracted by the networks doesn't take into account enough forms of audience viewing.

"We're talking about a different world now," said McPherson, whose network, like most broadcasters this season, has lost viewers.

"It's not just people sitting at a single television at home," he said. "We have to get as much of that viewership measured as possible — anything in hotels, anything in bars. I mean, there's tons of television that is watched that is not counted."

A critic noted that Nielsen has recently added college students to its database, then asked how attentive McPherson thought viewers in bars really are.

"You know what, in watching sports, I think they would be unbelievably attentive," he said. "I think in a hotel, people are unbelievably attentive."

McPherson added, "(Audiences are) watching on their iPods, on their phones ... and to me we have to get as much of that viewership measured as possible because we want to make sure that we all know what we're reaching."

McPherson said he is "pleased" about NBC's decision to cede 10 p.m. dramas and air a Jay Leno show instead.

"We think it opens up beachfront real estate to less bidders," he said. "For (CBS entertainment president Nina Tassler) and I, we have different brands, so we're both looking at it and excited that there are viewers who have been left by the wayside that we can take advantage of."

Critics asked about the fates of Wednesday night dramas "Dirty Sexy Money" and "Pushing Daisies," which were knocked prematurely off the schedule last year because of the strike and returned to fatally low ratings.

"I really loved the shows," McPherson said. "The producers delivered what they promised. For us, it was a frustration that we couldn't get a larger audience — or that Nielsen says we couldn't get a larger audience."

McPherson added that ABC still wants to make remaining episodes of both shows available, though producers were not able to craft satisfying series finales.

"We'd like to air the ending of those shows," he said. "I wish we had been able to give the producers series-ending notice so they could really have a finale."

After the panel, McPherson said the network hopes to put the episodes online.

Mike Judge's unscheduled animated comedy "The Goode Family" is still on track for a midseason rollout, McPherson said, though it may debut as late as May. McPherson confirmed that ABC will not pick up Judge's last animated series, Fox's canceled "King of the Hill," as a companion.

Asked about the performance so far of transplanted comedy "Scrubs," McPherson said he's generally pleased but that it's too early to draw any conclusions.

"We saw one week with no competition and another week with the biggest competition you can have ('American Idol')," he said.

ABC also announced two online initiatives aimed at increasing viewer interactivity and boosting Web traffic. A Web site for midseason series "In the Motherhood" will give viewers a chance to share their parenting stories for possible inclusion on the midseason comedy. And will give away $1 million to help individuals and their communities in a contest that will see viewers send essays describing their economic woes to their local affiliates. (partialdiff)