LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- "Lost" was by far and away the most talked about subject at ABC's executive session at the TCA Summer Press Tour on Tuesday. ABC entertainment chief Stephen McPherson was on hand to talk about the series as well as the network's other fall plans.
The hot button issue: the decision to split "Lost's" third season into two halves - six or seven consecutive episodes starting October 4 and the remaining 16-17 episodes starting in February. Between the two segments, "Day Break," the network's new "Groundhog Day"-esque drama, will fill the Wednesday, 9:00/8:00c hour for 13 consecutive weeks starting November 15 and "that will actually be the [show's] first day," according to McPherson. "So it will be closed-ended for those 13 episodes, and then "Lost" would come back in the spring for a consecutive run."
As for why more episodes of "Lost" aren't being run in the fall, McPherson noted: "A lot of it for "Lost" is production. It's a very, very difficult show to produce. You know, if we could run 22 straight in the fall, we probably would. But we just can't get the shows done in that amount of time."
McPherson nevertheless is optimistic about the show's new season, adding that co-creator J.J. Abrams will direct several episodes of "Lost" this year, but wouldn't give any specifics beyond that. And as far as Abrams' TV exodus from ABC sibling Touchstone Television to Warner Bros. Television (read the story), McPherson said: "You know, it's a shame to lose him from the studio because obviously we have a special connection with in-house, but we have a lot of shows with Warner Bros. We do more with them than any outside studio, and Peter [Roth] and I have already talked and we intend to keep in business with him. But my reaction is really thank you for all your work and, you know, we look forward to the shows that we have on the air this year, and we're really excited to have him back full-time. Last year, with "Mission," he did a fantastic job with that film but we really missed him, so it's nice to have him full-time."
Outside of "Lost," McPherson provided scheduling details for several other series. "Dancing With the Stars" will open with a two-hour launch on September 12 at 8:00/7:00c with one-hour results shows airing Wednesdays at 8:00/7:00c. A second two-hour installment will probably run on September 19 with 90-minute episodes on September 26, October 3 and October 10 before settling down to hourlong installments on October 17. Said strategy will allow "Dancing" to serve as a lead-in to both Tuesday newcomers "Help Me Help You" at 9:30/8:30c (which starts September 26) and "The Knights of Prosperity" at 9:00/8:00c (which starts October 17). (Note: All of ABC's premiere dates can be viewed here.)
As for why "Knights" switched monikers from "Let's Rob..," McPherson said that "from a marketing standpoint, we don't want to be misleading about how much Mick is in the show. But we also want to have a title that really markets it well. So we're still working on it. That's why we said it's a working title. We're not pretending that that's set in stone and that we really love it." Fellow newcomer "Ugly Betty" also saw its title swap from "Betty the Ugly." "That's actually the
correct translation as we understand it and what the producers originally wanted, so that's what we're going with," McPherson added.
McPherson was also asked about the decision to slate "Betty" on Fridays instead of with the more tonally matched "Desperate Housewives" on Sundays. "We think that there's an opportunity on Friday. There is an audience there. You know, people have kinds of
abandoned it. We don't feel that it's a 10 o'clock show. So after "Desperate Housewives," I just think that's too late for it. We looked at other possibilities for it. We looked at a Thursday leading into "Grey's" which we thought about. We think it can do some success there. We like the two-hour block with "Men In Trees," but things could change as we go
-- On CBS's claim that "C.S.I.: Crime Investigation" is the "underdog" against "Grey's Anatomy" - "I heard Nina [Tassler] was
playing the rope-a-dope. I mean I just -- it's kind of funny. I mean, you know, "CSI" and CBS have dominated that night, so I think they are the champions without question. And, you know, we're coming on with a strong contender and hope to do some business there."
-- On why ABC passed on Patricia Heaton's comedy pilot: "You know, Patty is fantastic. The show itself, we didn't feel, got to the level that we needed. She really can make the phone book funny, and so that was, you know, for us, a missed opportunity. But right now we're talking with the producers about whether there's a redevelopment of it. But as a show, it really did not come together the way we had hoped."
-- On the failure of "Commander-In-Chief" and what he would have done differently: "What we would do is we would probably bring it on later in the season and let Rod [Lurie] prep for it a lot longer than he had a chance to. You know, he was the
voice of that show. I think the week-to-week production of a series is a real education and that was what was hard for him. And I think if we had gotten way out ahead, we would have had a much better chance to being able to deliver a show week to week."
-- On the creative collapse of "Desperate Housewives" this past season: "Well, I completely disagree with
you about a creative collapse. I think that's really overstating it. But we -- what has changed this year is Tom Spezialy has left the show, and Marc has taken over 100 percent of the show running, and that's been a terrific change. The early scripts and the storylines and the arcs and the mystery, I think, are a lot stronger from the get-go. I think everyone
including Marc admitted that beginning of last year we stumbled a little bit, answered so many questions at the end of the first season that he really spent too much time, I think, setting up the mystery, setting up the new arcs, and this year we're going to jump right in. Again, you know, you guys will be the judge of that when you see the first couple of episodes, but they'll be all going through Marc's typewriter, which, I think, is a great thing."
-- On whether canceling serialized shows like "Invasion" will destroy viewers confidence in watching the next serialized show: "Well, we certainly hope not. I think it's difficult. The difficult thing about serials, is that, you know, a lot of times you have these mysteries that are set up, and there is a loyal fan base, however small sometimes, that is watching. You know, it would be great to be able to close up all those mysteries when a show just isn't working. But in the case of "Invasion," we wanted to stick with it. We felt like the work was really good and stuck with it till the end. I hope that viewers will give the next serialized show a shot. But I think it raises the bar for how good serials have to be, because I think people are only going to make an appointment and a commitment to a certain amount on the air."
-- And as for "Invasion's" cancellation specifically: "You know, what happened with it? It's up to the TV gods. We really liked the show. Shaun continued to improve that show. The storytelling got better and better, the density of it. There was some brilliant performances in it. We just could not get a large audience off of it. Hindsight, people talk about was it the right time period for it? Was it a better 8 o'clock show? But I think all that stuff is hindsight. We really believed in it. It came down to the wire. It was a very tough call for us, and we're hoping to be in business with Shaun this year again. But those are the difficult ones, you know, the ones that you really can't point to flaws in the show that really, in your heart of hearts, answer the reason it didn't work. We thought that show was really well-done and deserved to succeed."
-- On why "What About Brian" got renewed and "Invasion" didn't: "Well, because, I mean, "Invasion" had the time slot after "Lost." So those numbers are a little bit misleading in terms of -- the fall-off of "Invasion," unfortunately -- as I said, I loved the show -- was dramatic and continued to erode throughout the year. "Brian" came on and performed well with almost no lead-in and had a core audience that we believed in. Those are tough gut calls, you know. Those are the ones that are difficult to make, but I do believe that it's very hard to make a direct comparison in numbers when one show is after our second-biggest hit and the other show is on a Monday night, which is a night that we're rebuilding."