TCA Press Tour 2010: ABC Steals Day One

BEVERLY HILLS, CA–What’s a TCA press tour without Stephen McPherson?
Critics are about to find out as the combative ABC programming boss abruptly announced his resignation Tuesday night. The move comes just days before he and other ABC officials were scheduled to meet the press at the semi-annual gathering of North American TV columnists.
The news broke Tuesday on Deadline.com while many TV critics were returning from a long day of Hollywood studio visits, including a tour of the set of NBC’s Parenthood and a preview of the new Peter Jackson imagined King Kong ride at Universal Studios.

Paul Lee, head of the cable channel ABC Family, is set to replace McPherson as the alphabet network’s programming president. ABC’s been stuck in third place among the four main U.S. networks and could lose ground this fall with Lost out of production and an aging Desperate  Housewives out of gas.
The summer press tour began early Tuesday morning with a visit to the set of Desperate Housewives where executive producer Marc Cherry was apparently his outrageous, dishy self. But no hint of McPherson’s resignation emerged.
McPherson released a statement Tuesday saying he would announce his future plans shortly, including “a new entrepreneurial venture in the spirits business” as well as “involvement in a new media company.”
McPherson never found a hit to take the place of Lost–a series championed and developed by his predecessors–though Modern Family was a breakthrough comedy success last season. Too many misfires, including Happy Town, Hank and Caveman, kept ABC uncomfortably close to fourth place NBC.

McPherson in happier times
The fall ABC shows seem like a mixed bag to many critics. The cop drama Detroit 1-8-7 with Michael Imperlioni and Shaun Majumder, did not sell to a Canadian network, CTV bought No Ordinary Family, starring Michael Chiklis, and Citytv took the law drama The Whole Truth starring Rob Morrow and Maura Tierney. Some critics like what they’ve seen so far of My Generation. That McPherson resigned before taking these shows to market may reflect more on hardball contract negotiations than the merits of these shows. Or something else may be at play; speculation was running wild at the Beverly Hilton lobby bar Tuesday night.

Critics will miss McPherson’s blunt, direct style in a scrum. The programming executive publicly ripped NBC a few years ago over what he considered shabby treatment of his pal Kevin Reilly, who wound up with the top programming job at Fox. His hothead reputation stuck throughout his six year tenure at ABC. Despite all that testosterone at the top, the network remains primarily directed toward women viewers with shows like Grey`s Anatomy and Dancing with the Stars among TV`s biggest chick picks.

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