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ABC Exec Fires at Attack of 'Clones'

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LOS ANGELES -- Copy ABC's hit series at your own peril.

That was the caveat issued Tuesday by Stephen McPherson, president of entertainment at ABC, during the network's opening session at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour.

Alluding to the handful of new sci-fi series on the fall schedule, McPherson noted that the series that helped rejuvenate ABC are unique.

"'Desperate Housewives' and 'Lost' are not shows that you can rip off," he said. "I think it would be a mistake to do those shows again."

With elements of fantasy in its story line, "Lost" in particular has been cited as an influence on first-year shows incorporating otherworldly occurrences such as CBS' "Threshold" and NBC's "Surface" (previously known as "Fathom"). McPherson credited "Lost" with helping broaden "the palate of what's being pitched" with regard to series ideas for ABC.

McPherson echoed his copycat concerns for the unscripted realm, where he noted competitors are aping the feel-good tone of its hit reality shows like "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." With even "American Idol" now marketing itself in the mode of dream fulfillment, McPherson wondered whether the saturation point for kinder, gentler reality TV is near.

"At what point does that become overkill because of the clones?" McPherson said.

Speaking to reporters after the session, McPherson alluded to grievances he aired at last year's TCA tour about allegations that Fox was copying ABC's reality-show concepts. "I hope with (new network president) Peter Liguori and Fox we're going to see a different approach," he said.

ABC's summer reality shows were a big subject of discussion, particularly new hit "Dancing With the Stars." Reporters grilled McPherson about how Kelly Monaco, star of ABC's "General Hospital," managed to win the contest.

"You can't underestimate the power of the daytime audience, in terms of support," McPherson said of Monaco's fan base. He noted that "Dancing" is considering adding a separate episode devoted to results a la "Idol" when the series returns midseason.

In a separate session devoted to "Dancing," producers and judges denied Monaco's affiliation to ABC influenced their vote. "Never once did they (ABC) ever ask us about judging," said judge Len Goodman. "I didn't even know that she was on ABC."

In addition, McPherson stood by another ABC unscripted summer hit, "Brat Camp," when questioned whether filming a therapeutic wilderness program for teenagers amounted to exploitation. "We do in fact think they are effective programs," he said.

ABC's success this summer also could impact its scheduling strategy for midseason, particularly Mondays, where the network had slated such new shows as "Emily's Reasons Why Not" and "What About Brian" to replace "Monday Night Football" in January.

"We now have a couple more assets coming out of the summer, with alternative shows," McPherson said. "Those will play into how we move things around."

McPherson also reaffirmed his decision to yank reality series "Welcome to the Neighborhood" from the schedule just 10 days before it was scheduled to air this month because of its potential violation of the Fair Housing Act.

The reversal came about, McPherson said, because he had greenlighted the series on the basis of its premiere only to find that later episodes were inconsistent with the messages offered on tolerance. "The responsible thing to do was not to air it," he said.

However, McPherson noted that ABC might edit "Neighborhood" footage so that it would be suitable for primetime. "We're still trying to figure out if there's a way to air it in a different form," he said.

On the scripted side, McPherson indicated that returning series "Alias" will figure out how to write the real-life pregnancy of its star, Jennifer Garner, into its story lines. "We're going to embrace the fact that she's pregnant," said McPherson, who noted a new character would be added to the series.

McPherson also dismissed concerns that J.J. Abrams, executive producer of "Lost," "Alias" and "Brian," might be overextending himself. Abrams is in Rome directing "Mission: Impossible 3."

"We think he's surrounded himself with the right players to get the shows done," McPherson said.

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