ABC brings the stars to Anaheim with high hopes for the new season


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Disney’s D23 Expo is a massive exercise in brand-building across the entertainment giant’s ventures, and one corner of the empire that needs the help is the Mouse-owned network ABC.

On Thursday, ABC brought out some big stars to spread the word about its new slate of comedies. The quartet might be thought of as the Second Chance Gang. Kelsey Grammer, Courtney Cox, Patricia Heaton and Ed O’Neill have each enjoyed a signature role on a long-running sit-com and now each is trying to add a career encore.


Grammer is the star of “Hank,” which has a bit of a 21st century “Green Acres” vibe to it with its take of a high-flying New York businessman who finds himself and his family living in the sticks in Virgina. There’s an of-the-moment twist -- he’s there because he has “had his head handed to him” by the bad economy, as ABC Entertainment Group President Steve McPherson described it during a panel with his new stars as well as Tom Bergeron of “Dancing with the Stars.”

Grammer said he was excited about playing the role of a father after so many years on “Frasier” as a character who was technically a parent but never acted like it. He said when he first met with the makers of “Frasier,” he pushed for no children and no animals. “I got half of my demands,” he said with a sly smile.

O’Neill said there are a few minor similarities between his character on his new show, “Modern Family,” and Ed Bundy on “Married ... With Children,” but that the show’s scripts are smart, sophisticated and far more bittersweet than the old Bundy family farce. He said he was still getting used to the idea that his character is married to a curvy young Colombian second-wife. “She looks like Jessica Rabbit,” the actor said with a dazed smile.

Cox is the star of “Cougar Town,” a comedy about a divorcee who finds herself looking for love with younger men and coming to grips with her changing body. Cox pinches, pulls and prods her belly, upper arms, elbows and other body parts in a funny montage that Cox said she was proud to do at the time, but then had second thoughts about when it was shown on a theater-size scale. “I don’t think we need to [show] it on a big screen like we just did.”

Heaton of “Everybody Loves Raymond” fame is the star of “The Middle,” which McPherson says has a “Rosanne” sensibility about presenting family life, warts and all. The footage was a big hit with the crowd, a good number of whom were tourists visiting from the geographic setting of the show. Heaton said one of the treats of working on the show was reviving her flat Indiana childhood accent, which had changed through the years. She said the accents of the Midwest simply make her happy; ABC has high hopes that there are fly-over state audiences that agree.

The crowd at the Expo went crazy for the dancing performances that followed -- and an appearance by the forever-young Donny Osmond. The other big stir in the audience was for the trailer promoting “Flash Forward,” the show about a shared global event -- every human on the planet blacks out and, for about two minutes, sees a chunk of his or her future. The footage went over well with the crowd -- but then who comes to these sort of events to boo? It was also a favorite of Bergeron who said that he really loved the show, and not just with that mandatory company sort of love. “You can discount a certain percentage of my hyperbole -- I am paid by the Mouse House.”


-- Geoff Boucher