A lot of help from his friend: Ouster of Kevin Reilly at NBC prompts ABC entertainment president to rap the Peacock's new guy

ABC entertainment president Stephen McPherson Photos: Ed Bark

BEVERLY HILLS -- Upper echelon network executives seldom speak bluntly about their equally highly placed rivals. But this turned out to be one of those rare times.

ABC entertainment president Stephen McPherson doesn't at all like what NBC did to his longtime friend, Kevin Reilly, who's now Fox's newly named programming head. So he let loose after a formal press conference Wednesday. It often pays to be in the post-game "scrum," where questions tend to get answered more directly and honestly.

In this case, McPherson was asked by unclebarky.com whether NBC's swift hiring of actor Isaiah Washington surprised him. Fired from ABC's Grey's Anatomy for his derogatory comments about gays, Washington now has a four-episode "arc" on NBC's new Bionic Woman series, courtesy of Reilly's successor, Ben Silverman.

"I think it's kind of humorous the way that Ben talked about it," McPherson began.

"Kind of humorous?"

"Listen," McPherson replied. "You guys let him off the hook, but that's your prerogative to do that. I think it was pretty obvious what went on there. And if he (Silverman) was in fact talking to him (Washington) before he was available, then that's 'inducement to breach.' So I don't know. He (Silverman) is either clueless or stupid."

Meeting TV critics for the first time in his new post, Silverman announced Washington's hiring amid a slew of programming announcements and also said the Peacock would be developing a new action series for the embattled actor.

"I started talking to him (Washington) before he was available," Silverman said at one point. "And when he told me he was available, I was like, 'You are? Wait. I don't understand. What do you mean? You're a huge star on a television show.' I didn't quite understand what had gone on there."

McPherson said ABC wouldn't take any legal action against NBC for allegedly tampering. But he wasn't finished talking about Silverman, who also had deflected a question about NBC's decision to dump Reilly shortly after signing him to a new three-year deal. "Is that a good company or a bad company?" Silverman was asked.

"I hope that our shows and our results speak for what we're doing," Silverman said. "I only arrived (recently), so all I can say is we're really excited about what we're doing today and what we're going to be doing tomorrow and what you'll be watching in the fall."

"He didn't know what went on?" McPherson said of Silverman. "Is he living in a cave?"

NBC in fact stabbed his "best friend" in the back, McPherson said. "I mean, Kevin Reilly is the guy who stood up for The Office (which Silverman's Reveille company produced) against all opposition inside that company (NBC). He in essence made Reveille. The idea that he (Silverman) would then be able to stand up and say, 'I just got here?' Be a man."

McPherson also took issue with NBC entertainment co-chairman Marc Graboff's contention that Reilly "wasn't fired."

Instead, when NBC hired Silverman to essentially replace him, Reilly "realized or determined, frankly, that there was just no role for him at the company and decided to move on," Graboff told critics with a straight face.

"I think that you guys got as good a laugh as I did," McPherson said of Graboff's disclaimer.

ABC won't compete any harder against NBC because of what happened to Reilly, McPherson said. "But there's no question that when you see a friend treated the way he was treated, you're going to stand up for him."

That he did.

Dallas native Angie Harmon stars in ABC's Women's Murder Club

***Juggling family and career can still be a "terrifying sort of realm," Dallasite Angie Harmon said Wednesday.

"But I'm praying about it every day, and I'm confident that it's going to work out," said Harmon, starring in ABC's new Women's Murder Club this fall. "It's a different environment now. People have families. People have children. Executives understand that you're not going to be happy at work if you're not happy at home, if you can't be around your kids and stuff."

Harmon and Jason Sehorn, the former New York Giants football player, are the still new parents of daughters Finley, 3, and Avery, 2. He's lately a house husband for much of the year, but soon will be traveling in his role as a commentator for Fox's NFL telecasts.

"My husband is the most brilliant father on the planet," she said. "He's not ready to be away from them (their daughters) yet. I love that about him. I'm not ready to have him gone either."

Harmon, 34, expects to have her daughters on the Murder Club set a lot.

"I have a fabulous, beautiful trailer . . . Hopefully they won't find it too boring," she said.

Living in Southern California makes her heart grow fonder for Dallas, where she and Sehorn were married in June, 2001 after he proposed on NBC's Tonight Show. "Because of the girls ages, it's hard to travel. I'm really homesick. I had the girls so close together. I got pregnant, had the baby, and then, bam, pregnant again."

Her main concern in Los Angeles is the paparazzi, who "terrify me."

"I don't need them chasing me to validate me as an actress," she said. "You see those pictures of actresses carrying their children, and their children's heads are buried in their arms. That's not for me. I'm not going to put them through that."

Harmon, a Highland Park High School grad, is cast as a hard-driving homicide inspector on Murder Club, adapted from James Patterson's bestselling novels. She's best known for playing assistant D.A. Abbie Carmichael from 1998 to 2001 on NBC's Law & Order.

"It's a wonderful show, but there is no back story," she said of L&O. "You don't know what's going on with those characters. So you become frustrated because there are muscles you don't ever exercise . . . After a while, you start to hunger for that."

Scheduled to premiere on October 12th, Murder Club is slotted on Friday nights between 20/20 and Men In Trees. The show's producers include San Antonio native Joe Simpson, also known as the father and manager of rollicking Jessica and Ashlee Simpson.

"They're flawed and they make errors," Simpson said after the Murder Club interview session. "I think we're human. Unfortunately the world watches their every step. We try to be there when they need us, and to be away when they don't."