ABC at TCA: Trying to get out of the basement

The Television Critics Association Press Tour rolled on Thursday and Friday with ABC up. We’ll start with Friday and work our way backward to Thursday as the juicier stuff is up front:

– ABC executive session: Entertainment Chief Paul Lee addressed the press at TCA on friday, and was unapologetic about ripping off CBS’ Big Brother with The Glass House, which has been a ratings bomb: “It was totally worth it”, and said the lawsuit against the network by CBS was “over”. Yeah, it was sure was totally worth it: Glass House bombed in the ratings and viewers rejected it in droves. I take it Lee went to the Randy Michaels school of BS?

Lee also had something to say about Revenge: “The show has made soaps cool again.” Too bad the same can’t be said for All My Children and One Life To Live, which ABC canceled for awful talk shows. And oh, by the way, he said the two canceled soaps aren’t coming back (not sure who is competing for as many PR debacles one can fit in a few years’ time: ABC or NBC?)

Lee admits the network has a long road to travel to get back to being competitive, but is optimistic about ABC’s chances. Lee also is pleased about summer standout Rookie Blue, and is looking for more multi-cam sitcoms.

But here’s the rub: Lee is starting to make management at NBC and Merlin Media look like geniuses by comparison – or at least a bunch of C- students.

Dancing With The Stars unveiled the cast for its All-Star season and for a full list of celebs competing, click here. There will also be a thirteenth cast member held via internet voting, with the winner to be revealed on Good Morning America on August 27. This cast is quite weak as popular past contestants weren’t available to Dancing due to other commitments, i.e. Mel B (working on a project), Mya (on tour to promote her new album), Nicole Scherzinger (working on the UK version of X Factor) and neither Donny or Marie Osmond (regularly performing in Vegas – plus, Ms. Osmond has a talk show scheduled to air on Hallmark this fall.) Others, such as Mario Lopez, turned offers from Dancing down.

But one person who is on the All-Star edition of Dancing is Bristol Palin. Is anyone interested in anything she has to say? Yours truly is most certainly not.

On to the new shows:

– Country music cat fights? We could see a bunch of them on Nashville, a drama about a fading country music star named Rayna (Connie Britton) being forced to tour with a young, rising star named Juliette (Hayden Panettierre), who both can’t stand each other – and more. Exec producer R.J. Cutler said Nashville as a character-driven series and is staying true to its roots. From THR: “With the music, drama, family story, music business world, political world, at the core of it is these relationships and they drive through everything. What we’re focused on all the time is the characters.”

And the series features all-original music – a huge plus.

With Juliette looking to usurp Rayna in the quest for country music stardom, expect plenty of conflict – always a good thing. You’ll like this show, even if you’re not a country music fan. Nashville is another one of my picks to click.

Did you know? Nashville was also used as the name for an unrelated, short-lived Fox reality show in 2007. It would be the season’s first cancellation, lasting just two episodes.

– The panel for Last Resort was quite interesting, as the lack of African-Americans in lead roles in Hollywood came up during the panel – former Homicide: Life on the Street and Men of A Certain Age star Andre Braugher was asked about the rather sensitive subject. From Deadline Hollywood: “I don’t have a lot of information to judge the world in which there’s a white Andre Braugher who did better than I did.” While adding the African-American as a lead is a plus (and to yours truly, a huge, huge, plus as this African-American individual has complained for years about a lack of representation in the media business), Last Resort is in a traditionally tough Thursday time period that’s seen just one hit show in 35 years.

– Executive producer Kevin Abbott chatted up about his new sitcom Malibu Country, about a country music star (Reba) who moves from Nashville to Malibu, next to co-star Lily Tomlin. Abbott defended the multi-cam sitcom format (which Malibu is), which has fallen out of favor with critics and audiences over the last decade. From Deadline: “I think that it’s never about how many cameras you have shooting it, it’s about the people doing it, it’s about the writers, it’s about the actors, it’s about the director,” Abbott said. And if you do a good show people will watch it… I love four-camera because I get to go out there on show night and watch the audience react, I can maybe change a few lines to make it better. And I think that has great value.”

For the most part, those “multi-cams” has shifted to cable (to BET, FX, TBS, and Disney Channel), and of course, CBS has a multitude of them. While younger audiences under 30 are annoyed by laugh tracks, yours truly never had a problem with the form as I grew up with multi-cams. And keep in mind some the worst comedies over the last few years – Cavemen, Sons of Tuscon, Perfect Couples, and The Paul Reiser Show – were all single-cams (though yours truly also has a personal affection for Arrested Development and the early seasons of Malcolm in the Middle and The Bernie Mac Show.)

-In what critics as proclaiming as the worst new show of the season, creator-exec producer Dan Fogelman talked about his new sitcom Neighbors, in which a normal family moves into a neighborhood full of aliens with names of famous athletes (and yes, he had to get clearence to use them.) In what sounds like an animated Pixar movie should not be a live-Araction sitcom. And yes – this is a single-cam comedy. See you in The T Dog Media TV Hall Of Shame.

The supernatural goes upscale: the panel of 666 Park Avenue spoke about their new show with is about a couple (Terry O’Quinn, Vanessa Williams) who discover their New York apartment is possessed. But don’t expect any Scooby-Doo-like material, according to co-executive producer David Wilcox, via TV Media Insights: “No matter how dark the storylines may get, there will be more to 666 Park Avenue than just horror… seduction is really the steam that is driving this first season. This show has soap. It has seduction. It has wish fulfillment. It has a lot of those qualities that other ABC shows possess.”

Its an original, interesting concept, no doubt about it. But competing against The Mentalist and football on Sunday nights won’t be easy.

Here’s what ABC did on Thursday at TCA:

– Katie Couric talked about her new talk show Katie, which premieres in syndication on Sept. 10, but is almost predominately cleared on ABC affiliates. Look for a format similar to what Donahue had back in the day: a mixture of celebrity visits, serious issues, and fun stuff. She even extended an invitation to Sarah Palin, who was displeased with Ms. Couric’s intreview during her stint on the CBS Evening News. “Not yet” Couric says.

Katie premieres at 3 p.m. weekdays on WLS-TV beginning Sept. 10.

General Hospital held at rare session at TCA to mark its 50th season on the air – the series premiered on October 1, 1963 and is the only soap left on a network which at one time had as many as six of them on its daytime schedule. Here’s cast member Anthony Geary, via TV Guide: “We were so shaky about a year ago until Frank (Valentini) came on to shore us all up. We’d been living on Death Row. I think we were all pretty thrilled and excited about being acknowledged for the hard work.”

Did you know? Movie-mocking cable series Mystery Science Theater 3000 often aired clips of black-in-white episodes of General Hospital as “shorts” before the featured presentation during the Joel Hodgson era of the show. At the height of the General Hospital’s popularity in 1981, Boston-based group The Afternoon Delights paid homage to the soap with the novelty single General Hospi-Tale. The rap-infused song reached #33 on the Billboard Hot 100.