More life for 'Scrubs'? And other ABC upfront notes

Stephenmcpherson_240 While it's widely assumed that the first season of Scrubs on ABC will be the last season of Scrubs overall, Steve McPherson isn't ready to concede that point just yet.

"It could be" the swan song for the hospital comedy, which is moving over from ABC, says McPherson, the president of ABC Entertainment. "But it's hard to know. [The cast] didn't have options beyond last year. They just went to them and said, Do you want to do it? And they said yes."

Whatever the show's ultimate fate, McPherson -- who helped develop it when he was head of Touchstone TV (now ABC Studios) -- is excited to have the series on his network. Scrubs is not a big hit; it averaged about 6.4 million viewers a week this season. But its reputation and relatively decent demographic ratings have McPherson waxing optimistic.

"Given the fact that it's been in 17 time periods on their network" -- that's not an exaggeration, by the way -- "and never really promoted at all, the fact that it was doing a 3.5 [adults 18-49 rating] on Thursdays and performing better than everything but The Office, I think it's a really great addition for us," he says. "It helps us as we're expanding our comedy brand. We had a lot of success with Samantha Who?, but you know, it's kind of bricks. You have to build on success, and it gives us a real opportunity to have another piece to play with."

Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence is also excited at the prospect of an eighth season, McPherson says. The departure of Ken Jenkins' character, the curmudgeonly chief of medicine Bob Kelso, will clear the path for a new boss at Sacred Heart "that will spark a whole new dynamic in the office," McPherson says.

Sarahchalke_scrubs_240"There are some things [Lawrence] wasn't able to accomplish that he's excited about," McPherson adds. "And Bill, you know, has been a big reason we got behind this. ... When he came in and pitched me on where it was going, that was a big factor."

The show's cast will all return for next season -- including Sarah Chalke, who lately has been pulling double duty as Ted's (Josh Radnor) girlfriend on CBS' How I Met Your Mother. She could theoretically be able to work on both shows next season, as Scrubs has already gone into production on the 18 episodes it's making for ABC.

Other notes from ABC's upfront press conference:

  • Life on Mars, the only new drama on the network's fall schedule, will undergo a few changes to its pilot as showrunners Andre Nemec, Josh Appelbaum and Scott Rosenberg (October Road) come aboard. Some scenes will be redone to make improvements "from a production value standpoint," McPherson says, and a bit of recasting is also a possibility.

    Most significantly, though, "there's one large conceptual, mythological piece we're changing that's out of the Appelbaum-Nemec-Rosenberg brain trust," McPherson says. The BBC series on which it's based ended after just two eight-episode seasons, and the change will help position the show for the kind of open-ended run that's more common to American television.

  • McPherson explains why Eli Stone is getting a second chance after drawing modest ratings this spring: "We just felt like it had a very tough launch -- in the midst of the strike, without our original programming to really launch it. Creatively we felt like it grew from the first to the 13th [episode], so we really feel like it's got a big upside. ... I also think we have a better lead-in for it with Dancing with the Stars [on Tuesday nights]. I think it'll be really compatible."
  • The ABC boss caused some confusion among the huddle of reporters when he said both Dana Delany and Nicollette Sheridan would be returning to Desperate Housewives next season -- despite creator Marc Cherry's comments to the contrary. When someone asked McPherson to clarify his statement, given that Cherry has said Sheridan's Edie Britt won't be back "for a few years," McPherson just smiled and said, "Maybe."