Looking for a way to dig itself out of fourth place, ABC will put six hours of reality programming on its fall lineup -- the equivalent of two full nights of prime time.
Four are returning reality shows; the other two were to debut this summer, but after looking at all the scripted series pilots, Disney executives decided to hold them to use on the new fall lineup, which doesn't say much for the scripted stuff.
That's maybe a big oops for Steve McPherson, who until three weeks ago was in charge of producing scripted TV series at Disney for the Disney-owned ABC, and who four weeks ago was named head of the network's entertainment division. McPherson didn't let it get him down.
"I'm as competitive and driven a person as you will ever meet," McPherson said, introducing himself to advertisers jammed into the teensy Disney-owned New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, where, when ABC isn't giving its upfront presentation, Disney-owned "The Lion King" is playing.
ABC is the second major broadcast network to unveil its fall prime-time lineup to advertisers in New York this week. NBC went first, on Monday. NBC's presentation ran for nearly three hours and was filled with bar charts showing various big numbers for NBC and much littler numbers for CBS, ABC and Fox. It put up so many bar charts that NBC late-night star Conan O'Brien got up onstage and showed a few of his own, proving that NBC is not only better than archrival CBS, it is even better than sweaters.
When you're in fourth place, like ABC, you don't put up too many bar charts on a big screen. In fact, you don't put up any. ABC's presentation really hummed along, coming in at about two hours.
"If NBC made me sit through a 21/2-hour upfront, I'd find a way to punish them," ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel suggested to advertisers by way of trying to come up with a reason advertisers would want to place their ads with the No. 4-ranked network instead of No. 1-ranked NBC.
If NBC is the rich kid at school whose daddy buys him a BMW, Kimmel said, ABC is "the fat kid who eats paste."
ABC's two new reality series are "The Benefactor," one of a series of "Apprentice" clones, starring billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who McPherson assured reporters earlier in the day is the "anti-Donald." Plus, contestants don't just battle for some stinkin' 245-thou-a-year trophy job at Trump Co.; the winner gets a million bucks. "Wife Swap," meanwhile, based on a Brit hit, involves two very different housewife/moms from different parts of the country swapping places for 10 days.
Comic George Lopez didn't think too much of the latter; during his happy patter onstage he suggested ABC should buy a reality series from the creators of "ER" called "Does This Look Infected" that the network could put on its lineup "right after the two weeks 'Wife Swap' is on." Yes, that is Lopez's idea of a joke. Apparently Lopez hasn't looked at the numbers on his show relative to ABC's "The Bachelor," or "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." In addition to those two returning reality hits, ABC's bringing back for fall "Extreme Makeover" and "America's Funniest Home Videos," which, like a cockroach, simply cannot be killed, no matter how hard the network tries.
"We feel like we really have the pieces," McPherson told reporters at a news conference early yesterday morning.
You know, given the churn rate of programming execs at his network, they really ought to come up with a handbook of catchphrases that have been used by predecessors so they don't repeat oft-used lines of recently sacked suits. Phrases such as "This is the beginning for us" may seem fresh as a daisy to him, but for the reporters who have lived through about five different ABC entertainment division honchos in the past few years, it's getting pretty old and making them just the teensiest bit cynical.
Just two new comedies are being added to the ABC lineup, both heavy on guy jokes -- this is, after all, the network that thinks Jim Belushi is funny. "Savages," about a family in which there are no women, is from Mel Gibson -- of course it is. "Rodney" stars comic Rodney Carrington as an unemployed guy who wants to be a comic. McPherson said he liked Carrington because he did not come from the New York/Los Angeles-by-way-of-Aspen-Comedy-Festival scene. On the other hand, McPherson said Carrington would not be a writer on the sitcom.
ABC, which has had so much trouble launching dramas it considers "Alias" a hit, will debut six new dramas next season, though one, a doc drama called "Grey's Anatomy," must wait until "Monday Night Football" is over to score for its berth. And a new cop drama from Steven Bochco, "Blind Justice" starring Ron Eldard, won't be launched in the Tuesday 10 p.m. slot until after "NYPD Blue" -- which, by the way, is ABC's only returning drama series -- airs its 12th and final season without interruption for reruns.
David E. Kelley apparently has Dick Wolf and Jerry Bruckheimer envy. So ABC is calling his "Practice" spinoff "The Practice: Fleet Street," which is pretty lame, but clips of the new lawyer series starring James Spader and William Shatner seemed to go over well with advertisers.
"Desperate Housewives" gets the "Alias" Sunday time slot in the fall (though "Alias" will be back at midseason). "Desperate Housewives" is about a bunch of desperate housewives living in a seemingly perfect suburb. McPherson said it's based on a spec script that was shown to him by a pal who had gone to visit his mother somewhere in the Midwest and he saw some dreadful murder story on the local news and said to his mom, "Can you believe this kind of stuff goes on here?" and his mom replied, "Oh, I've been there."
So the pal sat down and he wrote a story about the horror that is suburbia: One housewife commits suicide, another is "Martha Stewart on steroids," a third an "ex-career woman who traded the boardroom for boredom," another who's fooling around with the 17-year-old gardener -- you get the drift.
Speaking of Hollywood fantasy, J.J. Abrams, of "Felicity" and "Alias" fame, has come up with a new Wednesday drama for ABC called "Lost," about survivors of a plane crash who wind up on an island no one's ever heard of that seems to be home to some big, scary monster that eats passenger-plane pilots.
WB is getting so old it's in danger of becoming too old for itself.
The network celebrates its 10th year this coming season, and, for a network that targets 12- to 24-year-olds, that's getting up there in years.
In honor of the occasion, WB CEO Jordan Levin announced to advertisers yesterday that the network will finally get aggressive about putting on reality series -- only about years behind the curve.
Which is so odd for a network that's supposed to be cutting edge and trend-setting.
And, while we're on the subject, there sure are a lot of CBS stars on new WB series: Fran Drescher, Gerald McRaney, Christine Lahti -- what's up with that?
Drescher, of CBS's "The Nanny" fame, stars in a WB midseason sitcom "Shacking Up" about a woman shacking up with a guy who's the same age as her son; McRaney, from CBS's "Major Dad," plays the dad in "Commando Nanny," which WB says is based on the life of army-commando-turned-Beverly-Hills-nanny-turned-reality-series-gazillionaire Mark Burnett. Lahti, from CBS's "Chicago Hope," plays the control-freak mom of a future U.S. president and his brother on "Jack & Bobby."
"This season was a wakeup call for us," WB chairman Garth Ancier told advertisers squished into those tiny seats at Madison Square Garden that have even less leg room than does United Airlines coach class, incredible as that may seem. He said that because WB is having a pretty lousy season, owing to the fact that its scripted stuff is getting the tar kicked out of it by reality series on the other networks.
"I was wrong. I will not make that mistake again," Levin said of his reluctance to jump into reality with both feet.
To that end, WB has a reality series on its fall lineup: "Studio 7" from "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" executive producer Michael Davies. Imagine if all the contestants on "Millionaire" were young and pretty and if they lived together for a week in a house filled with cameras -- a sort of "Millionaire" meets "The Real World."
WB has a slew of midseason reality projects, too, Levin told advertisers.
One, from Mark Burnett, was too "top secret" to talk about. But Levin did discuss in detail "Big Man on Campus." It's from "The Bachelor" creator Mike Fleiss, and it's about a bunch of sorority sisters from a chosen college who get to pick a BMOC frat boy. Only -- here's the twist -- King Frat Boy then gets to turn around and judge the chicks who judged him, and pick his "Campus Queen." Gag.
CBS announces its prime-time schedule today. CBS suits are under orders from CEO Leslie Moonves not to discuss their schedule with anyone, under penalty of being tossed out of The Firm. This would be okay if that's as far as it went, but CBS suits also like to jot down bogus new CBS prime-time schedules on little cocktail napkins and leave them around town at restaurants, bars and parties frequented by talent agents and other network suits during upfront week. This is childish and unworthy of a network that has given America such fine programs as "The Waltons" and "Big Brother."
Here's the CBS schedule that was making the rounds yesterday; it may be a cocktail napkin ploy; it may be real. Does it really matter?
"Yes, Dear" is gone from Monday, and for that reason alone, we pray there is some truth to this schedule. That leaves room for a new sitcom. One of CBS's three "CSI" procedural crime dramas sticks at 10 p.m.
A new drama series is sandwiched in between "Navy NCIS" and "Judging Amy" on Tuesdays.
A new sitcom based on Tony Kornheiser's Washington Post columns joins the Wednesday lineup with "King of Queens"; one of the three "CSIs" takes on "Law & Order" at 10 p.m., which would be about time.
No changes on Thursday, but Friday gets a new drama between "Joan of Arcadia" and "JAG." Saturday starts with two game shows, but Sunday isn't touched.