Replanting ABC's 'Pushing Daisies': Will It Bloom or Wilt?

BURBANK, Calif. — Ned the piemaker can bring the dead back to life with a touch of his finger, but for ABC's "Pushing Daisies," the resurrection is more complicated.

The drama, a unique mix of romance, comedy, fantasy and crime-solving, produced just nine episodes last fall, not always smoothly. Then it abruptly shut down last November — along with much of Hollywood — for the three-month writers' strike.

When that cloud was lifted, ABC decided to shelve the series until this fall. It returns Oct. 1, nearly 10 months after it left off.

Four other first-year shows face a similar holding pattern: ABC's other Wednesday dramas, "Private Practice" and "Dirty Sexy Money", and NBC's "Life" and "Chuck." (Only "Life" has the misfortune of also switching time slots, to the network Siberia of Friday.)

Aside from giving second chances to the five series, most of which faced ratings, creative or production problems, the strike's effect on the new fall season is deep in other ways. There are just 14 new scripted series on the five networks, less than half the usual count. And delays in pilot production will mean a bigger crop of newcomers in midseason.

The freshman five face a dual challenge: Can they hold on to last year's fans, whose loyalty has been mostly untested? And will they lure more viewers who didn't give them a chance the last time around, thanks to network marketing campaigns that treat them as new series?

"Daisies" co-star Chi McBride says he's "concerned" about the potential disruptive effect of a still-gestating series being off the air for so long. He points to the effect of the long break on some top shows.

"The audience does not like to be fooled around with," McBride says in an interview on the set of "Daisies'" fanciful Pie Hole restaurant. "You look at 'Grey's Anatomy's' numbers when they came back — there was a huge drop-off. Eventually I think we can get them back, but these hiccups have got to stop."

But hiccups were just what "Daisies" faced last fall. Ambitiously written, elaborately staged early episodes, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, added days to production schedules. Budgets ballooned as the editing process was rushed so episodes could air as scheduled.

"We were hemorrhaging costs trying to accelerate post-production," says creator Bryan Fuller ("Wonderfalls," "Dead Like Me").

"Last year, our scripts were big, and we had a lot of scenes. And we just figured we couldn't keep up with production under that model," Fuller says. "It was not necessarily a tug of war for the soul of the show, but it was, 'How do we get this done in a responsible way?' "

But there was some soul-searching as well, as ABC executives tried to rein in the more "fantastical" elements of the show to woo a broader audience.

The series focuses on Ned (Lee Pace), a bemused but lonely piemaker with that unique bring-back-the-dead skill. In the series pilot, he revives his childhood sweetheart, Chuck (Anna Friel), a murder victim. Problem is, a second touch brings death, so their love must remain unconsummated despite increasingly creative forms of non-contact contact.

Retaining the 'DNA'

Together with money-grubbing detective Emerson Cod (McBride), they win reward money for solving crimes by similarly (if temporarily) reviving other victims to learn how they met their sorry fates.

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