The major TV networks are making announcements about their schedules this week, responding to the successes and failures in the first half of their 2010-11 seasons, as part of the Television Critics Association winter press tour. ABC president Paul Lee spoke today about the state of his network. What's good, bad, and puzzling about what he had to say?
"A brand that combines smart with heart..."
That's Lee's vision for ABC, something exemplified in its recent breakout hits like Modern Family and Castle. Lee said that he wants to foster a "showrunner culture" at the network, where producers will be allowed more control over their series.
The network announced early renewals for its hit comedies Modern Family, Cougar Town, and The Middle—all testaments to the success of allowing a show's distinct voice shine through. Similarly, early pick-ups for Shonda Rhimes' Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice—as well as Castle—make a further case for how this "showrunner culture" will continue to set ABC's programming apart from its procedural drama-heavy competitors.
While Lee is to be commended for cheering his smart slate of comedies, his most effusive praise was reserved for a less-deserving program: The Bachelor. "This particular season is going to be delicious and funny and fascinating and sexy in all the right ways," he said. "I would personally hold up The Bachelor—and I take none of the credit for this; this precedes me—of how you can take a really good idea and own it." The takeaway: not only is the The Bachelor going anywhere anytime soon, but expect to see many more copycats in the vein of Dating in the Dark, More to Love and other nadirs of network programming.
ABC is also gearing up to launch ill-advised TV adaptations of some major pop culture institutions. "We've got a little glint in our eye that we'd love to make a Marvel franchise work on our network," Lee said. The network has development deals for shows based on the Marvel franchises Jessica Jones and The Incredible Hulk. If the failure of Heroes, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and the struggle to make Chuck, No Ordinary Family, and NBC's just-premiered The Cape into hits is any indication, turning the superhero genre into TV success stories is a mismatched battle.
The other big adaptation news—an eight hour mini-series based on the book Wicked—similarly has the odds stacked against it. Attempts at bringing The Wizard of Oz to the small screen have notoriously failed, most recently with the poorly received mini-series Tin Man on SyFy. That the book has already been made into a smash Broadway musical with its own legion of fans makes the chances of a high-profile flop even higher. Still, Salma Hayek is producing, a gig she previously took on with Ugly Betty, making it a breakout hit in the U.S. Perhaps she'll turn some wizardry on this project as well.
Six series pick-ups were announced by the alphabet net today, but missing from the list was their second-highest rated scripted series, Desperate Housewives. Similarly, Brothers and Sisters, which the network showed early faith in this fall by upping its episode order from 18 to 22, has yet to receive a pick up, despite its steady ratings. Considering Fall '10 yielded no breakout hits among ABC's freshman series, you'd think they'd be eager to keep their well-performing stalwarts around.
The most puzzling news, however, comes from Mamie Gummer, star of the new show Off the Map. Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep, had this to say about her mother: "We don't really talk shop at home. [She talks about] things that any other mother would try to convey, like things about SPF. But no, and I totally understand [why people would think that], but it's not like we own a pizza joint and there is a secret sauce that stays in the family." Based on Off the Map's middling early reviews, Gummer should be seeking out that sauce recipe.