ABC’s Paul Lee on the State of the Network – Press tour live-blog

01.14.15 3 years ago


After a executive session-free Tuesday — we had set visits and digital panels — it's time to get back to network business at the Television Critics Association.

Wednesday (January 14) is ABC's day and we're starting off the day with ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee, who's in pretty good shape after a fall that saw big launches for “How To Get Away With Murder” and, to a less degree, “Black-ish.” However, last spring's savior “Resurrection” has fallen off a cliff and I suspect we're about to get really self-righteous about the cancelation of “Selfie.”

So follow along with my live-blog!

9:30 a.m. PT. CBS and The CW both gave us renewals at their TCA presentations. Will ABC do the same?

9:33 p.m. It's the anniversary of the cheeseburger. I'm not sure why that's relevant. But it's still a thing we've been told.

9:35 a.m. Paul Lee takes the stage. He's got themes. “Brand” is always a favorite. He wanted ABC to be a smart and emotional network, building brand positioning around “Grey's Anatomy.” ABC is also building internal, studio-based productions. ABC is looking to build flow, especially on Wednesday and Thursday. “That traditional skill of flow and building out nights has been very, very important for us,” he says. ABC also wants to continue to reflect America's diversity. And, finally, “least objectionable television is dead,” he says. Passion rules. That's why ABC has approached great voices and storytellers to tell the stories they want to tell.

9:40 a.m. “Our midseason shows are just as good as our fall shows,” Lee says. He calls “Fresh Off the Boat” “brilliant” and “charming.” “The Whispers” will launch out of the NBA. He calls “Secrets and Lies” an internal hallway favorite. And he calls “American Crime” “extraordinary” and says it's one of the most powerful pieces of television he's been associated with. He raved particularly about the “American Crime” finale. 

9:42 a.m. Our first question: Will we ever get a “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette” who reflects America? “You are going to see diversity as we go through that,” he says. “I'm sure many of the future guys are gonna be,” he says. Oh.

9:43 a.m. Are “Secrets and Lies” and “American Crime” finite? They have 11 episodes of “American Crime” and 10 of “Secrets and Lies” and he suggests they could both be anthologies, but some actors could return. If “Secrets and Lies” came back, it would be focused on Juliette Lewis' character, but with a different case. “It's a lot of fun for us,” he says of the limited series vein. 

9:45 a.m. Is “Revenge” doomed after this spring? “I've always loved the show and it's actually a critical brand for us,” Lee says. “There are ways to reinvent it,” he says. He calls it a brand and set of actors that they love on the network.

9:46 a.m. “We love Eddie. He's a firebrand. It's one of the reasons why we love the show,” Paul Lee says of Eddie Huang's less-than-sympathetic Vulture story about the making of “Fresh Off The Boat.”

9:46 a.m. How different is “Secrets and Lies” from the Australian original? “The pilot's really good now,” Lee says of the revamped pilot. [It was not good before.] He says there are plenty of remakes that haven't worked and plenty that have. He says “House of Cards” has worked well as its remake. He repeats again that people internally at “Secrets and Lies” are hooked. “It's got more secrets. It's got more lies,” he says. He jokingly adds that it has more “ands” as well.

9:49 a.m. Has the competition from digital platforms changed the playing field? He thinks that the huge amount of competition has helped create great television. “I kinda welcome the competition,” he says. He says the broadcast model has generated some amazing programming. “Within the structure that is broadcast television, I think you can make amazing television,” he says. “This is a great age of television on every platform,” he insists. He insists that “American Crime” is proof that extraordinary storytelling is happening on TV.

9:52 a.m. We're back to the Eddie Huang Vulture story. Has ABC given thought to how many notes they give creators? And has experience with Shonda Rhimes taught them anything? Paul Lee knows what it's like to take notes, as a former showrunner. He's very proud of how focused and disciplined and minimalist ABC is about the notes they give. The great storytellers love having a different set of eyes, but being allowed to solve their own problems. 

9:55 a.m. He admits that the Tuesday 8 p.m. slot is difficult for “Fresh Off The Boat.” “We think it is going to find an audience,” he swears. “I think they're going to fall in love with it,” he says of viewers who sample “Fresh Off The Boat” in its Wednesday sampling. 

9:56 a.m. “Shark Tank” question. Is Mark Cuban sticking around? Are they preparing for new sharks? “We love all our sharks. We're optimistic,” he says. He jokes that contract negotiations are with the best negotiators in the world, but he's pleased with his negotiators. 

9:57 a.m. ABC is thrilled with how they've sustained “Dancing with the Stars,” calling it a powerhouse. Lee says they have “some really cool reality shows for summer” that will be announced in four to six weeks. But none are singing reality shows. Regarding scripted music, he says, “We're loving 'Nashville.'” They have a candidate to take over the vacant reality-head post, but he doesn't want to talk about it.

9:59 a.m. Lee says that in the new digital marketplace, serialized shows play well in secondary markets, as opposed to the cable syndication secondary market, which used to favor procedural shows. Now people like to binge shows on Netflix or Hulu or whatever. He references summer binging of “Scandal” for building ratings. He says that TGIT has become a cultural phenomenon. “It's a rather brilliant mix of the very very new and the very very old,” he says. They've build a “sense of occasion” around the night, which is old, but the social media component is new, obviously. 

10:02 a.m. How much has branding been a Disney mandate? He says it wasn't. Lee says that as the world fragments more, having a competitive brand is more and more important. He references “Modern Family” and “Grey's Anatomy” as shows that were high quality and upscale and let the network build a brand around them. Regarding diversity, he says that ABC didn't pick up shows because they were diverse, but rather because they were great. He insists he doesn't pick up shows that will help him make a bullet-point in meetings with us.

10:06 a.m. Is there a network note that voiceovers are helpful to bring viewers in? “We do tell very personal stories, right?” He says. “The Middler” and “Black-ish” and “Goldbergs” are shows that come from the voices of the creators. 

10:07 a.m. “Hit shows will help focus and change a brand,” Lee says, as we keep nattering about branding, playing into his hands. “Brands take a very very much longer time to build, than do specific hours of ratings,” he says. 

10:09 a.m. Why has it taken so long for diversity to take hold on TV? “Here, what we were trying to do was tell authentic, specific stories that speak to our audience,” he says.

Very few specific questions in that panel. We played right into Paul Lee's branding/diversity trap and didn't address anything specific. Oh well.

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