Pilots Package: dialogue with Stephen McPherson


The Hollywood Reporter: Looking out at the primetime landscape, was there any type of genre you think is ripe for a comeback next season?

Stephen McPherson: I think there's plenty of room for more soaps, but it depends on how you define it. "Desperate Housewives" is a soap to some extent. "Grey's Anatomy" is to some extent, too. I think there's more room for more heightened soaps and we've got a few that could work, like "Dirty Sexy Money," "Cashmere Mafia" and the John Feldman project which is tentatively named "Perfect Gentlemen." It's definitely worth taking a shot, I think. But these projects have something else in common: What they boil down to is we're a character-based network. Even in our hard-edged procedurals, I think we'll always focus on characters. For example, "Women's Murder Club" and "Suspect" are closed-ended procedurals, but there's a big character element.

THR: What will it take to succeed in comedy?

McPherson: It's all about point of view. I look at the ones that have succeeded in the past and the few that have succeeded recently, and what they have in common is a clear point of view, whether a single voice coming from the writer or it's the comedic talent. It's always that element that drives it. We looked for it in all the comedies we're trying, whether female-driven, male ensemble, generational, single-cam, multicam. We'll try some very broad, very heightened comedy.

THR: The pilot "Cavemen" is based on the Geico commercials. Was there a conscious effort to find nontraditional voices?

McPherson: We tried to go some nontraditional ways, but some of the voices are not necessarily nontraditional voices, they just haven't had a chance to stretch their muscles a bit or been kept in a box. I can't say we went looking for "Cavemen." When they came in the door, they pitched and we were very skeptical at first. But when we heard it, we heard it was a sendup of race the way "3rd Rock From the Sun" is an analysis of human nature.

THR: Is there room for more serialized series at ABC?

McPherson: I don't think "serialized" is a bad word. There's different kinds of it. There's some that take an unbelievable amount of commitment. You miss a single episode or act and you can't follow it. I think those shows are few and far in between. There's a lot of good in that realm but they're taking up a big time commitment from viewers. I think there's room for broad and accessible shows that still have serialized elements that will always be a part of what we do and what the broadcast networks do. It's a part of welcoming characters into viewers' lives.

THR: ABC has been criticized for having a very female-skewing schedule; do you plan to build on that or balance it out?

McPherson: I think you're always looking for the right balance, and we want to build but not change our brand. We're not suddenly doing all male-appeal shows. We'd like some male-appeal shows. We recognize there's a lot of work to be done. Female viewers drive audiences, but then you get the men in the tent as well. There are shows that appeal to both.

THR: What was behind the decision to spin off "Grey's Anatomy"?

McPherson: The reason we did the spinoff was (executive producer) Shonda (Rhimes) had this great idea she wanted to do to extend the Addison character's story and develop a new world she wanted to explore. I think it will bring an interesting new group of characters to life. "Grey's" was a story about people who didn't know each other too well that were thrown together in extreme circumstances. These are people who know each other well who are in that time in your life where you thought you had it all figured out but you have to make new decisions. Shonda really captured the zeitgeist with "Grey's" and this one will capture another part of life.