LOS ANGELES -- Robert Iger, president of ABC entertainment, is scared by the fact that there are no new hit shows on the networks this year.
Not that there are no new hit shows on his network, but on any network -- NBC, CBS or Fox.
"The fact that all three networks and Fox haven't found one worries me a lot," Iger told a press conference here. "It's hard to believe that it's the product and so I worry instead that it's the overall situation."
It's not that the shows aren't good enough to be hits, it's just that in the increasingly cluttered television environment, enough people can't find them, or won't turn them into a weekly habit.
Iger described the beginning of this television season as "mass chaos,." pointing out that of the 66 hours that the networks program, there are 27 hours on the air now that didn't exist at the end of last season.
"There were some 33 shows introduced in the fall and, if you add all the shows that have been introduced since then, it's somewhere in the mid-40s.
"I think that has created confusion for the viewer that in the end is negatively impacting a viewer's ability to watch network television on a regular basis," he said. "And that's scary."
Indeed, Iger thought that many of the attempts to rise above the clutter only added to it. He pointed to NBC's "double pump" strategy that ran first episodes on new series a couple of times, starting in mid-August.
"I think it was a valiant attempt to try to get more viewers to sample new shows, but I don't think it's the proper approach to take," he said, admitting ABC reacted with similar scheduling stunts.
"I don't think launching shows in August with a fair amount of fanfare and then bringing the series on some six weeks later really helped at all, it just increased viewer confusion," he said. "Jumping shows around the schedule so they can get launched just exacerbates the problem."
Iger also criticized the advertising tie-ins CBS had with K-Mart and NBC with McDonald's.
"We always felt that the commercial tie-ins created more confusion," he said. "To bombard the viewer with information besides just the name of the show, what it was and where it was airing . . . to me that was very dangerous."
The solution, according to Iger, is one of those words network programmers love to say but rarely practice -- patience.
ABC's success this year, which is considerable -- it's a close second in the ratings and well ahead with the demographically desirable viewers -- has primarily been with second-year shows, "Doogie Howser, M.D." "Family Matters," "Life Goes On," and "The Young Riders." All but "The Young Riders" returned in the same time period.