ABC's Midseason Game Plan: Done-Its, Do-Overs and Debuts

By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, December 31, 2008

This is the last of a series looking at the Four Actual Broadcast Networks, leading up to Winter TV Press Tour 2009. Today, ABC: If at first you don't succeed.

ABC is deeply committed to second chances this TV season.

First and foremost, there's the network's Do Over Wednesday, in which it was going to relaunch "Pushing Daisies," "Private Practice" and "Dirty Sexy Money" -- three drama series it premiered last year only to have them fall victim to the writers' strike.

ABC decided not to bring them back when the 100-day strike ended, opting to relaunch them this fall instead.

In the case of "Daisies," it might not have been a "decision" so much as a "necessity." The show had gotten far behind in production, the season was not as well "arced out" as network suits would have liked, and the process of actually making the visually lush forensic fairy tale was particularly complicated. Holding off for the rest of the season was a no-brainer, ABC suits thought.

Likewise with "Dirty Sexy Money," which underwent some retooling -- okay, gutting -- during its long, cablelike hiatus.

"Private Practice," on the other hand, could have come back but would have done so in the teeth of "American Idol" on Fox. Not an ideal environment, given that the doc drama had not been the out-of-the-gate ratings barnburner that ABC suits clearly expected of the "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff.

At any rate, the call was made to hold back all three Wednesday dramas. And, over the summer, the network spent the gross national product of a developing nation to promote the three series' September start-over.

Sadly, ABC overestimated the goodwill of viewers toward these shows -- you know, the same mistake CBS made when it decided to relaunch "Jericho" after receiving tons of peanuts that, apparently, did not translate to millions of viewers.

Like new series, the ABC Three did not yet have an established following. But unlike actual new series, the Wednesday slate left too many viewers with an "I tried that last year" feeling. Those people who were watching "Dirty Sexy Money" and "Pushing Daisies" were very devoted; there were just far too few of them.

So though both shows technically survived the writers' strike, television history books will include them among the strike's roadkill: on the air for too short a time, then off for too long.

"Private Practice" has a happier ending: It's finally getting the post-"Grey's Anatomy" time slot it should have had in the first place, in hopes it will find more fans.

Meanwhile, ABC launched few genuinely new series in the fall -- just one quickly canceled reality show, "Opportunity Knocks," and the cop drama "Life on Mars."

That's because January is the new September on ABC this season.

The network will launch or season-debut 12 series in the first quarter of 2009. No surprise here; last May, when broadcast networks traditionally unveil their next-season lineups to advertisers, ABC programming chief Steve McPherson instead said he would continue to produce and look at strike-delayed series pilots through the summer.

And, among the new entries, two more do-overs:

One is "Scrubs," a comedy series that has aired seven seasons on NBC. ABC-parent Disney produces "Scrubs." It was, in fact, developed and sold to NBC by McPherson, who headed Disney's television production division before becoming head of entertainment at ABC broadcast network.

"Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence has publicly pilloried NBC for how it treated his series throughout its run. Among his grievances: not getting to do the show's final season the way he wanted. Because Disney and McPherson think that Lawrence is a moneymaker worth cajoling, they are giving him that opportunity -- on ABC. The network has ordered 18 episodes of "Scrubs," including a one-hour finale. Everyone insists this will absolutely be the show's final season.

Also on ABC's Do-Over List: "Cupid." This one-hour dramedy originally aired on ABC, on Saturday nights, 10 years ago. It's true; 10 years ago the broadcast networks actually programmed Saturday nights.

The original "Cupid" starred Jeremy Piven as a guy who thinks he is the mythological love god and has been sent down from Mount Olympus by Zeus to connect 100 couples the hard way, without his bow and arrow, as punishment for his cockiness. Yes, Piven is forever being typecast. And, not coincidentally, 100 is the magic number of episodes a TV series needs to qualify, in effect, for off-network syndication. The lovely Paula Marshall, a notorious show-killer, played the psychologist assigned to his case. Marshall's track record held up: "Cupid" was killed after 15 episodes, sending it to the top of various TV critics' Canceled Too Soon lists.

With the writers' strike on the horizon last fall, "Cupid" creator Rob Thomas, creator of the mystery show "Veronica Mars," told ABC he wanted to remake the series. And, because every decade needs its "Love Boat" (C-list guest-laden, soppy romantic anthology series), ABC bit.

The perfectly cast Piven is busy with HBO's "Entourage" (and pursuing that other career as a thermometer, according to press reports on his sudden exit from the Broadway revival of "Speed-the-Plow" claiming a high blood mercury count), and Marshall is tied up playing the shrew ex-wife on CBS's "Gary Unmarried," so Bobby Cannavale, from "Will & Grace," and Sarah Paulson, who played the annoying Christian comic on NBC's Aaron Sorkin drama "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," are taking over the "Cupid" lead roles.

In another switch, the original "Cupid" was shot in Chicago, but this one will be shot in Los Angeles. That should really help attract those C-listers.

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