The network portion of The Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour began with ABC and a session with its news president Ben Sherwood.
“There are three themes that are most important to me going forward for ABC,” said Sherwood. “The first is unity. I think that our organization needs to speak with one editorial voice, and the programs and platforms of ABC News need better unity and more cohesiveness in how we compete in the marketplace. The second is creativity, and I think that we can jumpstart the creative process at ABC News, find the best ideas, create the highest-quality content, and win in this marketplace where news, more than ever, has become something of a commodity. And there’s reach: to find more audiences in more places where they want their news and when they want their news.”
Next up on ABC, which has announced early renewals for 2011-12 for sophomore sitcoms Modern Family, The Middle and Cougar Town; and dramas Castle, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice, was an executive session for entertainment president Paul Lee. “My real ambition is to make the ABC studio and the ABC network a real showrunner culture,” said Lee. “I think we did a lot of development with very established, great showrunners, and we’re also looking to find those new voices that could really redefine television into the future. That combination between a potent brand and empowered showrunners can really give us a chance to succeed going forward into the future.”
ABC, of course, is on the map care of megahit Dancing with the Stars (which has still not unveiled its upcoming new cast). Ratings for sophomore comedy The Middle are up, Castle is the real deal, and Modern Family is the both a critical favorite and an audience hit. But tent-pole series like Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy are no longer the forces they once were. News franchise 20/20 is tired. And nothing new on the network has broken out this season.
Already ordered for 2011-12 is a new character-driven drama from Grey’s Anatomy; upcoming Off the Map, created by Shonda Rhimes; and two new comedies, Man Up and Smothered.
"You’re going to see us pick up comedies and dramas and a combination of procedurals and serialized risk-taking shows on different sides,” said Lee. “The ABC brand, as I see it, really combines smart with heart, and that is a really unusual combination. We don’t always live up to it. But at its very best, we really make culturally defining, smart, big tent, inspirational television, and that’s how I see this brand and this network going forward into the future.”
As long as Dancing with the Stars holds up, so will ABC. But if the masses lose interest, there could be an uphill battle ahead for the network.
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