Lisa de Moraes
Lisa de Moraes
The TV Column

TV Column: From Disney characters to Tim Allen, it’s a brand-new small world after all at ABC

(Patrick Harbron/ABC) - “Pan Am”: Passion, jealousy and espionage. . .They do it all — and they do it at 30,000 feet. \"Pan Am\" stars Christina Ricci, left, as Maggie, and Margot Robbie as Laura.

NEW YORK

ABC unveiled its resurrection of the campy ’70s series “Charlie’s Angels,” of the ’90s sitcom star Tim Allen and of bankrupt airline Pan Am to ad execs and members of the press Tuesday in in New York.

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Pulitzer Prize winner, Peabody recipient, Medal of Freedom honoree -- Lisa de Moraes is none of these, but she is an authority on the bad direction, over-acting, and muddled plot lines being played out in the TV industry's executive suites.

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A Tim Allen sitcom, “Charlie’s Angels,” Pan Am Airlines, Snow White — everything old is new again at ABC.

Neither advertisers nor TV critics seemed overly impressed.

On Monday, ad execs had a solid day of watching clips for so-so new-season series: First, they were jammed into a tacky tourist-hotel ballroom, where NBC’s new head of programming told them to ignore the hideous carpeting; then they were squeezed into the Lilliputian seats at the Beakman Theatre — Fox’s annual idea of a good joke.

So by Tuesday, those ad execs seemed relieved to be at ABC’s presentation, being held in the more spacious and comfortable Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

On the downside, it was a soggy day, and the hall was a dense, practically liquid mass of ad execs, TV station execs and press.

The important ad suits and station execs, seated in the front rows, chatted with ABC and Disney honchos who flitted around them like butterflies. Lesser ad execs, TV station brass and some top TV critics were seated farther back in the orchestra seats. ABC had sent most of the press up to nosebleed seats, so the VIPs would not be subjected to the sight of them as they whiled away the time before the presentation started, counting their toes and exchanging low, rustic wheezes.

Anne Sweeney, the co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, who also finds time to be president of Disney-ABC Television Group, came out onstage first to warm up the advertisers with statistics that would wow them — though they’re nonsensical to us civilians.

“100 million,” Sweeney said.

“3.5 billion,” Sweeney enthused.

“100 million!” Sweeney raved.

“This is a great year to be ABC,” Sweeney concluded.

Next, the network’s head of ad sales came out to talk of this and that. And then it was time for Paul Lee, who was named head of ABC Entertainment only late last summer when the guy who had the job exited suddenly. Lee had been head of programming at ABC Family, where he’d done a great job increasing that cable network’s numbers and profile.

Lee had had a rough time Tuesday morning at his first Upfront Week news conference, going over his new prime-time schedule with The Reporters Who Cover Television and TV critics. The fourth estate was pretty tough on Lee; a clip of the fairy-tale show drew snickers in the room, and when he asked, solicitously — on two occasions during the morning clambake — whether they wanted to continue to look at clips, one of them finally shouted out, “Stop making us beg!”

But that was at 8:30 a.m., and by the time he took the stage at Avery Fisher Hall, about 4:30 p.m., he no longer looked like the spot marked with a cross where the accident had occurred.

In these challenging times, Lee told the crowd, viewers want to see superheroes. They want to see monsters. They want fairy tales and screwball comedy. And they yearn for “the glory days” — which apparently means the ’60s, believe it or not.

And ABC’s got all of that next season.

Lee chose to kick off his walk through his new schedule with his “Charlie’s Angels” reboot. “This show is pure candy,” Lee said.

They ran a clip. It’s very feature-film McG “Charlie’s Angels” — not Aaron Spelling “Charlie’s Angels.” Too bad. Tepid applause.

“Charlie’s Angels” will be the only scripted drama on Thursdays at 8 and the perfect lead-in to “Grey’s Anatomy,” Lee noted encouragingly.

On Friday nights — which ABC used to own with its family-viewing TGIF lineup — ABC has moved its aspirational home-makeover-turned-orgy-of-product-placement series, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

That opens up an hour on Sunday, which, Lee said, “has always been about appointment television.” That hour will be home to ABC’s new fairy-tale drama series “Once Upon a Time.” This is not to be confused with NBC’s new fairy-tale drama series, “Grimm.”

Lee was quick to note that his fairy-tale series is “like ‘Lost,’ ” only set in a small town in Maine and the flashbacks are to the real world. In truth, it’s a sort of “Lost” meets “Brigadoon” meets Disney animation licensing lawyers. It’s from “Lost” exec producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis.

The show is about a 28-year-old bail-bonds collector (Jennifer Morrison) who was abandoned as a baby and who also gave up her own son years ago. Her son is now 10 and thinks his birth mom is the missing daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, except that they sent her away to protect her from the Evil Queen’s curse — which trapped the fairy-tale world forever, frozen in time, and brought them into our modern world.

We end up in this super-creepy New England town called Storybrooke, where fairy-tale characters are alive even though they don’t remember who they once were, and an epic battle for the future of all worlds is beginning.

Phew!

The clip was met with polite applause.

And speaking of Sunday appointment television, at 10 p.m., following “Desperate Housewives,” ABC has “Pan Am.” It’s about the ’60s, Lee noted, “when the world was our oyster.” Or as ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel described it when he made his annual Upfront Presentation seventh-inning-stretch appearance, it’s a show “about an airline that goes bankrupt – what could go wrong with that?”

Ad execs seemed to like “Pan Am” better than “Charlie’s Angels” or “Once Upon a Time.”

ABC will not mess with its Mondays.

But ABC , which Lee said has always been known for family comedy, is “thrilled to be opening up a new family comedy block on Tuesdays” that will start at 8 with “Last Man Standing” — which marks, Lee revealed, “the heroic return to ABC of our beloved star, Sir Tim Allen.”

“ ‘Last Man Standing,’ ” Allen said, taking the stage, “is about a guy in a woman’s world, run by women, about women.”

“All my life, I don’t understand women,” he continued.

“My whole production staff’s all women. Post-menopausal, pre-menopausal, wannabe menopausal, wanna-have babies, have babies. . . . All the way along the line, they come in and scope the other women out and do this: ‘Oh, you pulled your hair out, like your eyebrows, look at that blusher, I like those earrings, nice blouse, nice top, look at that, look at those shoes.’

“I don’t notice anything about any of the men in my office.”

Continued Allen: “Anyhow, this is all about a man in a woman’s world. The original title was ‘The Paul Lee Story’ — ’cause if you’ve been to ABC, you know what Paul’s dealing with.”

Having made ad execs pretty uncomfortable, Allen walked off. Then Lee walked back out on stage and said that Allen’s show would be followed by another comedy, called “Man Up,” about three guys who’ve been emasculated and are trying to recover their manhood.

He added, “That’s ‘The Paul Lee Story’!” — making ad execs even more uncomfortable, which we didn’t think could be done.

After the “Dancing With the Stars” results-show finishes its fall run, two comedies will move into the 9 p.m. hour on Tuesdays, as well: The returning “Cougar Town” and the new “Apartment 23.”

“Apartment 23” is about June, a Midwestern girl who’s super naive — because she’s Midwestern, duh — and who moves to New York City and loses her job, and winds up working at a coffee shop and moving in with a charming, vivacious roommate named Chloe who has the morals of a pirate. (Chloe swindles June out of her savings, only June then pawns all of Chloe’s furniture, which impresses Chloe, so she introduces June to her snarky BFF James Van Der Beek, played by James Van Der Beek, and they all get along just fine.)

Lee fondly called the show “deeply inappropriate.” It showed the most promise of all the clips so far, but advertisers seemed tepid. So Lee told them it had tested particularly well with young audiences, as if he meant it to sting.

On Wednesdays — hammocked in a very cushy time slot, between “The Middle” and “Modern Family” — is a new comedy called “Suburgatory,” about a single dad (Jeremy Sisto) who discovers condoms on his daughter’s nightstand and responds by moving from New York City to the suburbs where he apparently believes there is no teen sex.

Oh, and ABC treated the audience to a little scoop about “Modern Family”:

Spoiler Alert:

On the season finale, Mitchell will tell Cameron that he wants another baby.

End Spoiler Alert:

Back to Wednesdays, now at the 10 o’clock hour (where ABC did so badly last fall with Jerry Bruckheimer’s “The Whole Truth”): This fall, the network will try “Revenge” in the time slot. The show is about a chick named Emily Thorne whose family was driven out of the Hamptons in shame years ago, and now she’s back to exact revenge by destroying everyone there. Our money’s on Emily.

A clip of “Revenge” was shown. At this point, the ad execs, who had fidgeted during the early stages of the presentation, were lying back in a sort of coma.

That’s when they brought out Kimmel:

“Remember those shows we were so excited about last fall? We’ve canceled all of them. And yet, here you are again! I think you have a gambling problem,” Kimmel told advertisers. “If this was a show, they’d call it ‘The Bachelor.’ ”

The audience somewhat revived, Lee returned to talk about his midseason shows, which will be launched on the back of the “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” “The Academy Awards” and the NBA Finals, he said.

That includes Ashley Judd as an ex-CIA agent looking for a kidnapped son in “Missing”; Shonda Rhimes Washington in a fixer procedural called “Scandals” (which we would have sworn was a comedy, only we’re assured it isn’t); and “Good Christian Belles,” based on the hit book “Good Christian [Female Canines].”

That last show is a sort of “Real Housewives of Fill in the Blank” meets “Dallas” meets “Sex and the City.” It’s from “Sex’s” Darren Star, and Kristin Chenoweth steals every scene she’s in.

ABC went with “Good Christian Belles” because the book name wasn’t broadcast-friendly, and some ABC female staffers took issue with “Good Christian Babes.” That tidbit is relevant for about an additional 48 hours, because that’s how long it will take ABC to start calling this show “G.C.B.” — to take advantage of the promotional value of all the G.C.B. merchandise that’s floating around as an offshoot of the book’s success.

Also being held for midseason: ABC’s new Steven Spielberg drama “River,” about a wildlife expert/TV personality who goes missing while looking for “magic deep in the uncharted Amazon.” This causes his family to dash off to find out the shocking truth about his disappearance.

More accurately, “River” is being held so it can be unveiled at San Diego Comic-Con, Lee told the press at the morning news conference. At Comic-Con, he said, they think the show will “resonate.” Because when it comes to trying to launch a new TV series in today’s super-cluttered TV landscape, resonating at Comic-Con is now nearly as good as launching right after the Academy Awards.

“River” is pretty “Paranormal Activity”-ish, which is not surprising, given that one of the executive producers was the creator of that flick.

 
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