NEW YORK - It's already the first punchline of the fall TV season, but ABC yesterday made it official, adding a comedy called "Cavemen," based on the Geico car-insurance commercials, to its 2007-08 schedule.
No word yet on a deal for the gecko.
Hours before he was to meet with advertisers and media buyers to present ABC's plans for next season - in a ritual known as "the upfronts" because this is the week the networks try to get their money up front - ABC entertainment president Stephen McPherson rehearsed his straight-faced spiel about "Cavemen" before a few dozen reporters at ABC's offices here.
Behind us, a panoramic view of Central Park. Before us, a man describing a comedy inspired by a series of clever-but-one-joke car-insurance commercials as "insightful and smart."
"If we were just going to do a sketch about the cavemen, I don't think that would work at all," McPherson said.
What producers pitched, he said, involved "really taking a look, through this kind of odd lens, [at] the idea of racial relationships and minorities in this country. It gives you the ability to kind of offend everyone but offend no one, except for the cavemen themselves."
Offend everyone but offend no one? That would make "Cavemen" the Holy Grail of TV comedy, a genre that's fallen on hard times.
"The good news about comedy is that it has been broken for a couple of years and people are taking real chances," McPherson said.
Besides its look at early man, ABC announced it had picked up seven new dramas, four new comedies and a philanthropic "reality" show from Oprah Winfrey, "Oprah's Big Give," which is expected to premiere in midseason, as are two of the dramas and one of the comedies (along with "Lost," which won't be back until January).
Scheduled to premiere in fall are: "Sam I Am" (9:30 p.m. Mondays), a comedy starring Christina Applegate as a woman who wakes up from an eight-day coma with amnesia only to discover that her previous self wasn't very nice; "Cavemen" (8 p.m. Tuesdays), which won't star the guys from the commercials (they "wanted too much money," quipped McPherson); "Carpoolers" (8:30 p.m. Tuesdays), a male-bonding comedy about a quartet of ride-sharers whose cast includes Fred Goss ("Sons & Daughters"), Jerry O'Connell ("Crossing Jordan") and "Hope & Faith's" Faith Ford.
Also, "Pushing Daisies" (8 p.m. Wednesdays), a drama about a man who can touch things and bring them back to life; "Private Practice" (9 p.m. Wednesdays), the "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff starring Kate Walsh as Addison, who moves to Los Angeles and joins Taye Diggs, Tim Daly, Amy Brenneman, Merrin Dungey and Paul Adelstein in private practice; "Dirty Sexy Money" (10 p.m. Wednesdays), a drama starring "Six Feet Under's" Peter Krause as an idealistic lawyer who goes to work for a rich and powerful family - some of whose members are played by Donald Sutherland, William Baldwin and Jill Clayburgh; "Big Shots" (10 p.m. Thursdays), a drama about "competitive but dysfunctional CEOs" that stars Michael Vartan, Dylan McDermott, Christopher Titus, Joshua Malina and Nia Long; and "Women's Murder Club" (9 p.m. Fridays), a drama based on the James Patterson best-sellers about a quartet of San Francisco women who solve homicides.
Note yet scheduled: "Cashmere Mafia," a drama from "Sex and the City's" Darren Star whose stars include Lucy Liu; "Eli Stone," a drama about a lawyer who may also be a prophet; and "Oprah's Big Give," in which "millions of dollars are given away to make a difference in people's lives across the country."
Returning shows: "Brothers & Sisters," "Men in Trees," "Ugly Betty," "Grey's Anatomy," "Lost," "Desperate Housewives," "Boston Legal," "Dancing with the Stars," "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," "The Bachelor," "Supernanny," "America's Funniest Home Videos," "Wife Swap," "October Road" and "Notes from the Underbelly."
Outta here: "Six Degrees," "The Nine," "Help Me Help You," "Day Break," "Show Me the Money," "Big Day," "Knights of Prosperity," "The George Lopez Show," "In Case of Emergency," "What About Brian," "Great American Dream Vote" and "Traveler."
Not quite dead (but not on the schedule): "According to Jim." *