LOS ANGELES--As Ricky Ricardo might say, "ABC, you got some 'splaining to do!"
After a resurgent 2004 season, in which the network launched Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and Lost, ABC took a chance in 2005 with two expensive dramas that didn't pan out: Commander in Chief, the big-budget series about Geena Davis as the first female US president, and Invasion, the sci-fi serial about aliens coming to take over the earth via Florida.
Network president Stephen McPherson answered questions Tuesday at the TV Critic's Association summer press tour, being held in Pasadena. When asked what he thought went wrong with Chief, McPherson said if he did it again, he would do it all differently.
"We would definitely do it over," he said. "What we would do is bring it on later in the season and let [show creator] Rod [Lurie] prep for it longer than he had a chance to...He was the voice of that show. I think the week-to-week production of a series was a real education to him...if we had gotten out ahead of it, we would have been able to deliver a show week to week."
McPherson defended Desperate Housewives, which received a flogging this past season from fans and TV critics alike. He bristled at the notion that Housewives had suffered a "creative collapse."
"I completely disagree about a creative collapse. I think that's really overstating it," he said. "What has changed this year is that Tom Spezialy has left...and [show creator] Marc Cherry has taken over 100 percent. The early scripts and the arcs and the mystery are...a lot stronger from the get-go. I think everyone admitted that last year [the show] stumbled a little bit, but now [all stories] will be going through Marc's typewriter. It's going to get back tonally to more of a wicked comedy."
This season, Daybreak features a story that builds upon itself, wherein a man (Taye Diggs) must relive the same day over and over, one day per episode for 13 episodes. The Nine, starring Kim Raver from 24, and Six Degrees, from Lost creator JJ Abrams, both follow groups of people whose stories unfold throughout the season.
The network head explained ABC's thinking behind airing so many serialized shows, which typically have a hard time drawing in new viewers, who feel they have missed too much if they don't watch early on.
"We went with the best shows we had. Serialized dramas certainly present some challenges," he admitted. “You've got to explain that people can join along the way. I think you saw that in the second season of Lost--there were a number of people who thought the train had left the station."
He went on to discuss the failure of one high-profile serialized drama, Invasion. The alien series was put into the time slot behind Lost last fall and never produced the numbers the network wanted.
"We really liked the show. Shaun [Cassidy, creator] continued to improve that show. There were some brilliant performances in it. But we could just not get a large audience off it," McPherson said. "We really believed in it. It came down to the wire."
None of ABC's new comedies, such as the Salma Hayek-produced telenovella remake Ugly Betty and the Ted Danson semiscripted Help Me Help You, feature laugh tracks. Additionally, all of them are single camera, as opposed to the traditional sitcom style of multiple cameras on a studio set.
McPherson said that the genre is so tapped-out, it's time to try anything new.
"We feel like the same old same old is not working, so the traditional three-camera, couch-in-the-middle sitcom just didn't seem to be breaking out...there weren't great voices [like] Tim Allen or Roseanne Barr," he said. "I think comedy is risky right now because it's kind of broken, and I think that's a great thing [because] people are taking chances."
ABC hopes to reap risk-taking rewards beginning September 8.