TCA: ABC prepares new dramas to launch

Cast of "The Middle" (which stars Patricia Heaton, fourth from left) at the recent TCA Press Tour
Cast of “The Middle” (which stars Patricia Heaton, fourth from left) at the recent TCA Press Tour

The ABC Portion of the tour kicked off with ABC Family’s Bunheads and Pretty Little Liars, then descended into the executive session, where network president Paul Lee blundred and stumbled explaining why the network didn’t do well (finishing fourth in primetime), admitting defeat and the work ABC needs to do.

Lee also admitted this past All-Star cycle of Dancing With The Stars wasn’t a creative success, but remains committed to the show, saying “There’s still a lot of life left.” Despite drawing a rather lukewarm adult 18-49 rating, the show averages 16 million viewers a week and Dancing also became a top destination for political advertising last fall, filling local stations’ coffers (you don’t hear them complaining, do you?)

But there were some rather bizarre responses to other questions: on Nashville, Lee called the response to the series “bi-polar”, saying he wanted to bring “older” audiences to the show. On the subject of recently disposed action hour Last Resort, Lee said the show was too male-skewing for the network, despite averaging a 1.7 rating in adults 18-49 – which was better than some other shows on ABC. And on the subject of Happy Endings and Don’t Trust The B in Apt. 23 – each were averaging around a 1.0 rating, he said they “loved” both and they are water-cooler shows (at where? Nordstroms?)

Don’t know what’s going on here, but Paul Lee must be channeling Fred Silverman – or his unrelated long-lost son Ben Silverman. It doesn’t make much sense to keep two shows whose ratings are being outdrawn by half of The CW lineup -or by Heathware Oven infomercials at 2 a.m. Airing these two sitcoms twice a week with new episodes hadn’t been done since the days of Batman – and don’t ask ABC execs of the era how that turned out toward the end of the Caped Cursader’s run. By the way, ABC was in last place back then – as it is now. Making bad business decisions just so you can please a small group of vocal fans of two failed programs isn’t a good business policy.

Onto the panels:

Jimmy Kimmel: ABC’s answer to Leno and Letterman in late-night addressed the critics, and was realistic when it came to analyzing his strong performance opposite The Tonight Show and The Late Show on his first night: “It was just one night”, Kimmel was quoted as saying. As for jockeying for pole position, Kimmel was nonchalant,  saying he would happy finishing third, given the long histories of the NBC and CBS late-night franchises.  He explained to critics he never asked about the post late local news slot which was recently occupied by Nightline.

Red Widow: The Real Housewives of the Drug Lords: after her husband is killed,  a housewife is forced to continue his work in the drug underworld. Unlike The Killing, which promised and failed to deliver on a satisfying ending in its first season,  Widow will wrap up its storyline after eight episodes according to executive producer Melissa Rosenberg, who wanted to bring a awed female character to broadcast TV, in the vein of Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. The program debuts March 3 opposite NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice and CBS’ Mentalist.

Zero Hour: The latest series to get stuck in the Thursday death slot for ABC is new action series Zero Hour, which features Anthony Edwards as a man whose wife is abducted and then gets in the middle of a huge conspiracy. The show can be described as 24 meets The DaVinci Code. Zero Hour premieres February 14.

Returning shows: During The Middle panel, the cast addressed the “underrated” stigma – which to them isn’t such a bad thing. One reporter asked if Middle would do better as a Modern Family lead-out in a later time slot instead of, as the cast jokingly put it, Wheel of Fortune (which airs on many ABC O&Os and affiliates in prime access, including ABC 7 in Chicago.) The cast is happy with its lead-off spot on ABC’s Wednesday night lineup. Now in its fourth season, Middle will begin airing this fall in syndication locally over WGN-TV…Shark Tank, which features investors trying to sell their wares. is having a great season thus far thanks to increasing ratings – not to mention a rather cool option on Friday night, where the only thing worth watching these days is Chicago Week In Review with Joel Weisman. Executive producer Clay Newbill had this to say about the show’s success: “It shows people that entrepreneurism is alive and well in this country. It empowers viewers to believe, I can do it!”… Body Of Proof begins its third season on February 19 with the addition of two new cast members: Elyes Gabel and Mark Valley playing detectives, while three other regulars were shown the door. According to