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‘Housewives’, ‘Lost’ put fun back in TV

ABC chief says hit series have brought smile back to struggling network too
/ Source: The Associated Press

ABC’s entertainment chief believes “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” have become hits because viewers were anxious to have fun again on TV.

A glut of crime dramas made too much of television seem the same, ABC entertainment president Stephen McPherson said Sunday.

“It was murder of the week, it was horrible sex offender of the week,” he told members of the Television Critics Association. “And that’s a tough environment to be in. But these shows allowed people to laugh again and enjoy themselves. It made television fun again.”

Fun again for ABC, too. The two hits, and the quiet success of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” have enabled the network to rebound from several bad years. ABC has jumped from fourth to second place this season among the youthful demographic it targets.

The network has also been in good position to rake in more advertising revenue, said Alex Wallau, network president, although he won’t say how much. “Desperate Housewives,” a satire about the private lives of families in a suburban cul-de-sac, has quickly attracted the most upscale audience on TV, giving it additional value beyond its popularity, he said.

“Lost,” a drama about plane crash survivors on a South Pacific island, is appealing to viewers because “it’s a microcosm of life,” McPherson said. He said the show’s creators have not even told him what the big mystery is about the island where the characters are stranded.

ABC is trying to take advantage of the shows’ success by developing compatible programming, he said. That’s not as easy as it seems: ABC looked at about a dozen scripts for prime-time soap operas to follow “Desperate Housewives” before realizing the show wasn’t really a soap opera, he said.

“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” in which contractor Ty Pennington and a team build a new home for someone each week, has also built itself into a Sunday night hit and signals the positive sort of reality programming ABC wants to emphasize, McPherson said.

“We’re just not going to do the mean-spirited stuff,” he said. “We’re really about wish-fulfillment, fantasy and romance.”

Things aren’t all flush for ABC: Most of its comedies have been dragging in the ratings. McPherson said the future of the Mel Gibson-produced comedy “Complete Savages” is up in the air, and he spoke of the coming-of-age drama “Life as We Know It” in the past tense.

McPherson, who began in his job last spring and benefited from series development overseen by others, also resisted the obvious temptation to brag about ratings.

“We have been through some tough times and we’ve done some good work,” he said. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do. We are a hungry group.”