Steve's Reason Why Not

By Lisa de Moraes
Sunday, January 22, 2006

PASADENA, Calif. Jan. 21

In the Land of the Nobody Here But Us Chickens, other broadcast programming chiefs may be de-beaked, de-clawed battery hens, but ABC's programming chief, Steve McPherson, is strictly free-range.

McPherson dares to answer questions. Or at least he gives the illusion of answering them, which is the same thing.

Like when he was asked Saturday at Winter TV Press Tour 2006 why he canceled Heather Graham's sitcom "Emily's Reasons Why Not" after just one episode, but not John Stamos's "Jake in Progress," which did equally lousy ratings a couple weeks back.

"I have a crush on John Stamos," he responded. Other programming chiefs would have seen the trade paper headlines: ABC Programming Chief Acknowledges Tryst With Bad Sitcom Star, and balked at giving an answer like that.

Of course he then gave a serious answer. "Emily's Reasons Why Not" did not get "where it needed to be" creatively while "Jake in Progress" has grown, he said.

"You have to kind of measure your patience based on how you believe in the creative," he explained. "And . . . we felt like, unfortunately, ['Emily'] was not going to get better and we needed to make a quick change."

Couldn't you have known it was a dog from early testing? one critic wondered.

"Testing is a pretty dysfunctional tool," McPherson said, immediately winning our undying love.

"We all know 'Seinfeld' -- one of the worst-testing NBC pilots ever," he added, and he ought to know, being a former NBC suit. "Desperate Housewives" tested only okay, he said, and "no men said they would ever watch it."

McPherson even had a good answer to the "Whither goest the multi-camera laugh-tracked sitcom?" question.

"I think doing the traditional sitcom, where it's the same couch you've seen in every previous show, it's the same setup, that's a problem. . . . We kind of got away from point-of-view and voice. It would be just a situation that yes, technically was funny, but it wasn't an engine for a series. They weren't people and voices that you wanted to hear week after week."

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