NEW YORK -- As expected, ABC President of Entertainment Steve McPherson announced a fall schedule Tuesday that will look a lot like it did last September.
With only two shows to launch in the fall, "Life on Mars" and "Opportunity Knocks," the network will spend more of its promotional budget on relaunching its returning shows and wait until midseason to pick up more new shows. ABC has 17 pilots in contention for midseason slots, the time of year when the network's strong fall performance weakens, in part, because of Fox's "American Idol."
"For us, midseason sets up as a time when we have a lot of opportunity, and those pilots will be ready and can go through the full process without cutting corners," McPherson said during a press conference at ABC headquarters. "We don't really feel comfortable picking stuff up until it's been fully developed and piloted and tested."
"Opportunity Knocks" is a game show produced by Ashton Kutcher's Katalyst Films and will air at 8 p.m. Tuesdays before "Dancing With the Stars."
"This show is basically an amazing game show where we go to different neighborhoods around America and knock on people's doors and bring the game show directly to their front lawn," McPherson said. "It kind of combines 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' with 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.' "
"Life on Mars" is a remake of the popular BBC series about a detective who finds himself in 1972 after he's run over by a car. Jason O'Mara will play the lead character, Sam Tyler, who, for instance, knows things about DNA even though his '70s-era colleagues don't. It will air at 10 p.m. Thursdays.
David E. Kelley created and produced the pilot, but he gave up his rights to the format as part of his negotiation to keep "Boston Legal" on the air a little longer. Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg ("October Road") will take over the production of "Life on Mars," which will have a different mythology at its core than the original version.
The final 13 episodes of "Boston Legal" will air at 10 p.m. Mondays with its two-hour finale slated for December. There will be a writing staff, but Kelley will pen most of the episodes.
McPherson also confirmed that ABC has picked up "Scrubs," which NBC canceled after what was supposed to be its seventh and final season. The single-camera comedy, produced by ABC Studios, would have ended its run this month, but NBC chose not to produce the final episodes.
Now it will air in midseason at 9 p.m. Tuesdays. The run could extend to future seasons if it performs well, McPherson said. "It helps us as we're expanding our comedy franchise," McPherson said.
The network also picked up the animated comedy "The Goode Family" and a Kutcher-Tyra Banks untitled reality co-production, a "beauty pageant you've never seen before," McPherson said.
Maria Elena Fernandez
CW: the young and the feckless
Welcome to the CW, your one and only source for the scandalous lives of Manhattan's elite -- and next season, the wealthy youth of Beverly Hills and Palm Beach.
In its junior year, the young network is loading up on soapy dramas about moneyed teens, hoping to bring a "Gossip Girl" buzz to the rest of its schedule.
" 'Gossip Girl' is the first show that we really developed at the CW, and I think that's a good indication of the kinds of shows that we want to do: shows that create pop culture," said Dawn Ostroff, the network's president of entertainment, in an interview Tuesday morning before the CW's evening upfront cocktail party.
But it remains to be seen if the third year will be the charm for the CW.
For all its hype, "Gossip Girl" has yet to deliver decent ratings, and this season's writers strike deeply eroded the network's audience, leaving it in a precarious state.
"We started this company two years ago, in the middle of a big sea change in the business, and then we had a strike thrown at us right in the middle," Ostroff said. "We know that you have to be patient; shows take time to grow."
Ostroff said she's optimistic about the fall lineup, which the CW is launching Sept. 1, hoping to get ahead of the competition.
The network's most talked-about new drama: an updated version of "Beverly Hills, 90210," the popular 1990s Fox series. In the newest iteration, Annie Mills (Shenae Grimes of "Degrassi: The Next Generation") and her brother, Dixon ("The Wire's" Tristan Wilds) move with their family from Kansas to Beverly Hills. Original "90210" star Jennie Garth reprises her role as Kelly Taylor, now a guidance counselor at the high school. Other regulars from the first series may also crop up.
The show will be paired Tuesday nights with "Surviving the Filthy Rich," a series based on the novel "How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls" by Zoey Dean. It's about a young live-in tutor for a pair of rebellious twin girls in Palm Beach, Fla.
Both programs are "great escapism television, particularly at a time when people are so worried about the economy and the financial situation in our country," said Ostroff, noting that shows such as "Dynasty" and "Dallas" did well under similar circumstances.
On Wednesdays, "America's Next Top Model" will be paired with "Stylista," described by the network as " 'The Devil Wears Prada' reinvented as a reality series." The winner gets a job at Elle magazine.
'Scrubs' gets a lifeline on ABC
Three measly episodes is all it would have taken for creator Bill Lawrence to let go of "Scrubs" and be a happy (and fulfilled) camper.
But after 18 time slots, NBC unceremoniously dumped the single-camera comedy, even though the writers had "meticulously" planned its final arc and had eight episodes left to produce.
"After seven years, they had no interest in it, and it was incredibly frustrating," Lawrence said Tuesday after ABC welcomed the show into its lineup. "The thing that I was most excited about was getting to finish 'Scrubs' out correctly."
Enter McPherson, who developed it when he ran Touchstone Studios (which is now ABC Studios). Assuming ABC was interested in giving "Scrubs" its final lap, Lawrence galvanized the writers and cast. They hired younger actors to play new interns. (McPherson said Tuesday that the old cast, including Zach Braff and Sarah Chalke, will remain with the show under a one-year contract.)
"We all had to get creatively inspired again," said Lawrence. "And that meant going back to the show's roots: being more and more real and less cartoony and less silly."
Then McPherson started talking about the future, one he had envisioned years ago when he pictured it as a comedy version of "ER" that could last years with rotating characters.
"I can shockingly see it happening because it seems very fresh and new right now," Lawrence said. "Regardless, this season feels like an end to the eight-season story we're telling. If we were to go on, I would almost guarantee that it would be in a new and hopefully creatively exciting direction."