ABC’s Sunday (Aug. 1) Television Critics Association press tour day began with Communications EVP Kevin Brockman lugging a giant, stuffed pink elephant up on the stage. The pachyderm was a not-so-subtle representation of the elephant in the room, specifically last week’s abrupt resignation by ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson.
10:01 a.m. “There’s a lot more people here than when we tried to launch ‘Wildfire’ on ABC Family,” Lee begins. He was on vacation with his wife and had to cut things short to meet with us. He calls ABC a “premiere, iconic storytelling brands.”
10:02 a.m. Calling himself “super-unprepared,” Lee says he’s been on the job for 36 hours. The only think he knows, he tells us, is that “Modern Family” should win the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy.
10:03 a.m. The first question regards Lee’s broadcasting philosophy. He says he tries to “create brand-defining, network-defining… shows.” He’s happy with the branding currently. He does, however, want to take some risks and make some great shows.
10:04 a.m. Lee cites “Modern Family” as his favorite show, though says he’s also a fan of “Greys” and even praises “The Bachelor.”
10:05 a.m. “Well, I’ve just been on vacation,” Lee says when asked what just happened at ABC. Lee’s wife’s reaction to his decision to come to TCA, “How dare you” (in an Irish accent).
10:06 a.m. Again, Lee dodges a question about what happened with McPherson.
10:06 a.m. Lee says he’s talked to a lot of his showrunners in the past couple days. He says he’s looking forward to today’s presentations and learning about his shows.
10:07 a.m. Do you want to know *where* Lee was on vacation? Apparently he was just on the beach up the California coast.
10:08 a.m. Lee isn’t coming completely out of left field. He was at ABC Family, so he’d already seen the fall pilots. He references “Kyle XY” as a show that was developed through the Touchstone system.
10:09 a.m. Lee says that he’s now concentrating on a core 18-49 audience now, rather than the millennial audience he was going for at ABC Family. He says that while there are some intersections, it’s a different audience and he won’t be able to do the same things.
10:10 a.m. “I sit lonely up here on my own, but I don’t take all the credit for ABC Family,” Lee says. Of his programming strategy, he says it’s important to look at your research, but it’s also important to program shows that “move you,” that “hit you in the gut.” When it comes to testing, he tells us that the British “Office” was the lowest testing show in their history.
10:12 a.m. What genres does he think will work best on ABC? “I don’t think I’ve had a chance to figure out what that mix should be,” Lee says. He’s pleased that thanks to “Modern Family,” ABC has fertile ground for comedy. He raves at ABC’s reality foundation, thanks to “Dancing with the Stars.” And he salutes ABC’s history with serialized dramas. He points out that on cable, all you have to do is do one thing and do it well.
10:14 a.m. A critic asks Lee to “defend” “No Ordinary Family” as a broadcast show. Lee’s confused and defends it with relative ease.
10:15 a.m. Lee says he used to love cable’s ability to stand by a show and wait for the ratings to come. “We are all slaves to ratings,” he acknowledges. He references “Middleman” as an ABC Family show he loved that just wasn’t right for his network. He says he was still getting emails about “Middleman” when he left, despite the show’s “terrible” ratings.
10:17 a.m. Lee argues that maybe ABC doesn’t actually need repeatable procedurals, given how well the serialized shows have done overseas. But he feels good about some of ABC’s new procedurals.
10:19 a.m. “I would love to be in a position to do a second night, but obviously it’s much too early to tell,” says Lee regarding comedies. He really likes him some “Modern Family.”
10:20 a.m. A “Happy Town” question! “Look, I don’t know,” Lee says. “We’re a competitive network and we want to stay very competitive.”
10:21 a.m. “We’re locked and loaded here,” Lee says regarding the possibility that changes might still be made to ABC’s fall schedule. He says any tweaking could make more of a mess than positive change.
10:22 a.m. Does it matter to Lee and to ABC that “Modern Family” comes from 20th Century Fox? He says it’s too early for him to have a plan regarding how many ABC shows will need to come from the network’s home studio.
10:23 a.m. Is it possible to have a brand-defining show on a network? Lee sounds like he believes that it is, indeed, possible. “I don’t think it’s wrong to say that broadcast networks have identities,” Lee says, pointing out that sometimes one network will have a show that would work on another network, but doesn’t work on the network it’s on.
10:24 a.m. A reference to Steve McPherson dancing at the upfronts in tight pants. “I’m a Brit. I’m far too self-conscious to get up and dance,” Lee promises.
10:25 a.m. “This job is certainly about creating new, strong brand-defining hits,” Lee says. Again. Brand-defining.
10:27 a.m. Lee says that in addition to channeling his inner American for the last six years, he’s been channeling his inner female teen. More talk about the way some shows hit you in the gut. Along with “brand-defining,” “gut-hitting” has been another theme of this panel.
And that’s it for Paul Lee’s substance-free TCA debut!