Commentary

Applause for ABC: Now the Tough Marketing Work Begins

Cheer just a little for ABC, the comeback kid, this upfront season.

But hold your applause until just before next November sweep. That's when ABC's target marketing of a few good shows will show its colors -and the applause meter might go on again.

This week, media buyers are happy the season is concluding - especially with the rarity of increasing adult 18 to 49 network ratings, in part thanks to ABC. Procedure cop/court room shows came like fastballs over the past couple of seasons. And then ABC threw the entire market one breaking pitch after another - "Desperate Housewives," "Lost," and "Grey's Anatomy." And not a forensic specialist to be seen (so far anyway).

"Housewives" is a dramedy spoof with 40-something actors; "Lost" is a bunch of airplane survivors on a mysterious island; and "Anatomy" is an old fashioned - but young-skewing - doctor show, with veteran MDs having regular sex with new interns.

Now that Stephen McPherson, president of ABC Entertainment, has some credibility, he isn't sitting still. Tearing up new ground again, ABC will launch a large slate -- 12 new shows, five for the fall and seven for mid-season. The fall list includes "Commander-in-Chief" about a woman running for president and another "Invasion," a mystery along the lines of "Lost," with the premise that aliens have already arrived.

Modestly, McPherson said his work isn't done -- though for most TV executives his performance would equate to a lifetime of work: ABC grabbed the greatest year-to-year ratings surge in 25 years. But everyone knows the drill. ABC is still in third place, and like every other network it still hasn't been able to develop a comedy.

Learning its lessons well, McPherson will repeat the process - especially its cool marketing plan that focuses on just a handful of new shows like it did with "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost."

And so here's the big question. Which two, or possibly, three of the nine new shows will get the nod? No doubt the high-profile "Commander-in-Chief," which looks to be one major candidate for marketing madness. But - as it did last year -- that'll mean six of seven rather miffed executive producers by the time November sweeps rolls around.

How can McPherson keep everyone smiling? He probably won't. Improving ratings growth even more will only validate his vision, his plan, and keep the producer hounds at bay.

Desperate? Only to help Bob Iger get off to a good first year as Walt Disney chief.

Lost? No, not yet entirely found.

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