With the announcement Tuesday that Steve McPherson would be stepping down as head of the ABC Entertainment Group I got a few emails from friends asking how this would affect me? To answer, I’d have to go back through my history with ABC.
The last time David and I sold a pilot to the alphabet network it was 1981. We’ve done two pilots for ABC. Neither was shot. One was a family comedy. They were also developing a family comedy that year for Erma Bombeck. We were told they were greenlighting hers, not ours because they had a deal with her. “But if it’s any consolation,” they said, “Yours was much better.” Yeah, GREAT consolation.
We also rewrote a pilot for ABC that did get made but we didn’t get screen credit. And the pilot was never picked up. That was in 1979.
Interestingly, throughout our very lengthy (and lucky) career we’ve done very little for ABC. Our first staff job was on THE TONY RANDALL SHOW for ABC but we left to go to MASH, we’ve written episodes for a few short-lived series, and I’ve directed a number of shows for ABC including DHARMA & GREG. It’s just that the long running series we were involved with seemed to be on every network but ABC.
And yet, you’d think in almost thirty years we could have sold one goddamn pilot there. We used to joke that we couldn’t sell the Super Bowl to ABC.
In fairness, ABC has always been lovely. We certainly can’t blame one or two individuals and say it was anything personal. We must’ve pitched to 200 different regimes. Two of the buildings that we pitched in have now been torn down. Some of the executives we pitched to are dead, or worse -- out of the business.
But ABC has always been receptive to us bringing in ideas. The meetings are always respectful and I always get the impression they will buy an idea if they like it. But it’s us. We just never bring them anything they seem to like. I’d say at least 50% of the pilots we sold elsewhere were originally passed on by ABC. We started going there first because we felt it was like a practice pitch. They’d never buy of course (we could pitch DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES) but at least we got to give our presentation a test spin.
Here’s how not-in-the-cards it was for us. When ALMOST PERFECT premiered we got a extremely nice call from the then-head of ABC saying how much he loved the show and wondered why we didn’t bring it to them. I told him we did plan to go to ABC first but they called the day before and wanted to postpone the meeting for three weeks. So we took it to CBS the next day and sold it in the room. It just wasn’t meant to be.
Meanwhile, we helped out on other peoples’ ABC pilots. Quite a few of those. Although, come to think of it, very few of those ever got picked up. I’m telling you, it’s US.
But that’s just for writing, directing, and producing. In terms of ACTING, ABC is our home. David and I have had cameos in two episodes of shows we wrote – OPEN ALL NIGHT and THE MARSHALL CHRONICLES and both of those series were on ABC. We can’t sell a show but we are the face of the network. That’s more consolation than the Erma Bombeck incident.
Anyway, back to the original question – will Steve McPherson’s exit have much of an effect on me, I say no. Paul Lee has been named to succeed him, not my dad. And even if my dad were named President of the ABC Group, he’d still say he liked our idea but already bought something similar from my brother.
That said, I'm sure Paul will do a great job. My best to him and everyone at ABC.