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ABC president lauds NBC's Leno move

Scott Collins and Denise Martin
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

PASADENA, Calif. — NBC's decision to bring scripted series back to 10 p.m. will be good for the entire TV business, according to ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson.

"It's going to put the emphasis back on great creative" and scripted shows, McPherson told reporters Tuesday at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena.

Over the weekend, NBC confirmed that it will move Jay Leno back into late night and return scripted dramas to their traditional 10 p.m. (ET/PT) berth, which McPherson said would make broadcasting stronger overall.

"It's what people expect in the time period," he said.

Often a mercurial presence, McPherson was subdued and pushed aside opportunities to gloat over NBC's misfortunes. "Seeing a great network topple is not something we rejoice over," he said. "It's disconcerting when things happen like that. ... We want it to be vibrant, a good competitor."

But he did dispute an NBC executive's remarks about ABC's less-than-spectacular performance this season. "We're actually up 8 percent to 10 percent," he said. "It's a little odd for that to come out." (NBC quickly e-mailed reporters statistics backing up its interpretation of the numbers.)

McPherson was likewise muted about Simon Cowell's decision to leave "American Idol" for "The X Factor," a show Cowell created and owns. He pointed out that although Cowell is a vital part of "Idol," Fox will still keep him in the family.

"I'm not sure it's some gigantic win" for ABC, McPherson said. "It's just going to be a change."

McPherson opened the session by announcing early second-season pickups for three Wednesday comedies: "Modern Family," "Cougar Town" and "The Middle."

The fourth sitcom in ABC's Wednesday block, Kelsey Grammer's "Hank," is already gone.

"We never got the writing where it needed to be," McPherson explained.

In an earlier session, executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and the cast of "Lost" were only too happy to talk their way around a barrage of reporters' burning questions at the show's final session at TCA.

In other words, there isn't any additional clarity about the aftermath of Juliet detonating that bomb.

However, Cuse reassured the room that, though it will certainly be hotly debated, the series' ending has long been in the works. No writing-as-you-go here. He and Lindelof said they began planning how it would all go down three years ago when ABC set an end date for the show.

"We came up with the final image" way back when and have been adding to it ever since, Cuse said. The end isn't yet written, he said, and though certain "mythological elements" are intact, character resolutions are still being determined.

"We really have no excuse to say anything other than this is the ending we wanted to do on the terms we wanted to do it," Cuse said. "We've had a lot of time to think about it."

Not that they're not bracing themselves for an outcry. "I don't think it would be 'Lost' if there weren't an ongoing and active debate ... as to whether or not it's a good ending," Lindelof said.

"Not everything will be answered, so there will be people who are upset," Cuse added. But "to explain everything ... would be a mistake. Hopefully it will be a healthy cocktail of answers, character resolution and some surprises."

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