Peter Krause by Bob D'Amico/ABC
Get lost, ABC. That was the hostile undercurrent behind much of the questioning for ABC's entertainment president Stephen McPherson Wednesday morning. We critics can be a surly group, especially this late in the TCA press tour. (ABC has the bad luck to be up to bat on the final two days of the three-week hype-a-thon.) But give us something legitimate to gripe about - in this case, the decision by
's producers to skip the TCA and instead address the game-changing events behind
's cliff-hanger at the Comic-Con fan convention in San Diego on Thursday - and you'd better watch out.
One reporter even put it this way: "Are we not important enough for you?" At first, McPherson tried to shrug it off with a joke, saying that he has hired Don Imus - fired earlier this year from his radio and TV gigs for a racial slur - to join the show. (This was the closest he or anyone else came to addressing the Isaiah Washington/
debacle during his official press conference.) The
hubbub ultimately led public relations VP Hope Hartman to come onstage and whisper in McPherson's ear, prompting him to announce that
's exec producer Damon Lindelof had OK'd him to release a nugget of news: the return of original cast member Harold Perrineau to the show. But on the essential issue of how
plans to tell its stories over the next two seasons, given that the game-changing cliff-hanger jumped to the future: nothing.
"[Damon and Carlton Cuse] have not released whether or not it will take place now with flash-forward or flashbacks. They obviously opened up a new world," McPherson said. "They have pitched us where they're going this year and where the next two years take us. What's great about that is now that we know that we have this end date, it has allowed them to craft that end story exactly the way they want." As for scheduling it from February to May, skipping a fall "pod" that proved so unsatisfying last season: "As much as we needed it from a scheduling standpoint, running these episodes straight through will be the best way to do that. Regardless of the storytelling technique that they use, I think it's going to be a much better, fully enclosed installment."
Among other hot topics:
MacPherson confirmed that the high-profile pilot adaptations of
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
are officially dead at the network.
The much-maligned decision to keep
Men in Trees
off the air for the rest of the season after its spring hiatus was directly due to the unexpectedly strong showing of
(which I'm happy to note was named "worst series" in the recent
critics' poll). ABC is presenting a
panel on the show Thursday afternoon, right before a panel on
(that ought to be a lively two hours), so it's not like they're ashamed of
or anything. Better yet, the leftover episodes from last season will be tacked onto the start of this one (shades of when
was bumped for
a few mid-seasons ago), so the upside is fewer repeats.
Women's Murder Club
, based on the James Patterson book franchise, is ABC's "stab at a procedural," something the network sorely lacks and needs. If it clicks with viewers on Fridays, it could easily migrate to another night.
Most critics don't seem to be buying the new
sitcom, based on the Geico ads, as a one-note racial allegory. The pilot episode is being retooled and recast and won't air until several weeks into the season (if it even gets that far).
Several questions addressed the sameness of much of ABC's drama development this year, which leans heavily on the travails of rich, glamorous, beautiful people, with shows like
Dirty Sexy Money
, starring Peter Krause as a lawyer for a celebrated family of Kennedy-esque brats;
, a sort of "Desperate CEOs" featuring Dylan McDermott, Michael Vartan, Christopher Titus and Joshua Malina; and
, a bald-faced
Sex and the City/Lipstick Jungle
rip-off about four high-powered Manhattan women. McPherson kept countering this criticism by holding up the Suarez family of
as a model of diversity. Whatever.
One show that definitely falls outside the norm is
, a dazzling fable about a lovable guy (Lee Pace) who can bring the dead back to life by touching them - but if he touches them twice, they stay dead.
, infused with a Tim Burton-like look of heightened fantasy, is a complete original, blending love story with crime drama. (The hero uses his gift to help a private eye solve murders.) It's enjoying some of the fall's best buzz despite skepticism that it's too offbeat and thus defies categorization. McPherson insists that on a week-to-week basis it will unfold as a procedural, although its magical qualities mean "it's never going to fall into a
faces another challenge: a tough time slot of Wednesdays at 8 pm/ET, where it launches a night of all-new series that includes
Dirty Sexy Money
. McPherson credits its originality, "and the fact that it is different in the way that
was when it launched at 8 o'clock. It doesn't fit neatly behind any show, either, because of its originality. So for us, we just feel like we've got to spend a lot of money and a lot of effort to launch it in that slot."
Showers of critical acclaim probably won't hurt, either.