ABC is piling on the pilots for next season -- Why the home of ''Desperate Housewives'' and ''Lost'' is in a panic

By Lynette Rice
Updated April 07, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Our TV puzzle of the week: Given that it has three of the biggest hits — Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, and Desperate Housewives — why is ABC acting like it’s in a crisis? In what seems like a vote of no confidence in first-year shows Invasion, Commander in Chief, and Freddie — and perhaps a reaction to the loss of Monday Night Football — the net is developing 11 more pilots than its closest competitor. By our count, entertainment president Steve McPherson has a remarkable 34 comedies and dramas in the works, not to mention pricey deals with TV megastars like Calista Flockhart, Heather Locklear, and Patricia Heaton.

”We still have to be aggressive in our development,” explains McPherson. And for good reason. Though his freshman lineup showed promise, shows like Invasion and Chief have cooled considerably, ranking No. 56 and No. 27, respectively. If those programs and floundering comedies Freddie and Sons & Daughters are canceled, that’ll make ABC zero for 10 with new scripted series this year. And while ABC is the only net to post gains in adults 18 — 49, that’s mostly due to the hits that McPherson developed in his old job at Touchstone TV before assuming the presidency of ABC?which may explain why the exec is so eager to find the next watercooler show. (See below.) But is producing so many pilots really the best solution?

”For every 40 pilots, ABC needs 40 directors, plus actors, writers, and crew. It dilutes the marketplace,” says an executive at a rival network. ”And actors who used to be part of a supporting cast are now carrying shows they shouldn’t be.” Unsurprisingly, McPherson demurs. ”When Calista returned to TV, she didn’t say, ‘I’m going to the place that has the most development.’ She goes, ‘I’m going to go where the best material is.”’ Of course, if Flockhart’s show doesn’t do the trick, at least ABC has 33 other chances.


Small-scren Star Power

Brothers & Sisters
Calista Flockhart stars in this family soap from thirtysomething ‘s Ken Olin.

Sixty Minute Man
David James Elliott portrays a family man caught in a major conspiracy in this serialized drama.

Day Break
Taye Diggs is also caught in a conspiracy, but about a cop on the run for a murder he didn’t commit.

Untitled Patricia Heaton Project
The Everybody Loves Raymond vet is a widow who joins the PTA in this sitcom.

Women of a Certain Age
Yet another comedy about a widow, but featuring the awesome Heather Locklear!

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