Generally one of the most elusive of TV executives when it comes to TCA press tour candor — The CW's Mark Pedowitz is a worthy challenger — ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee may or may not have been saved by the success of “Resurrection,” which somewhat salvaged a dismal spring of replacement failures.
Now Lee and ABC are looking forward to a fall that lacks a clear presumptive hit, though presumptive hit status only did a little for “Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” last year. And probably “How To Get Away With Murder” has the pedigree to succeed, while “Black-ish” has the lead-in to succeed.
Click through and follow along for Lee's full discussion of why the ABC Brand is still strong and why we're overstating the network's struggles last season.
10 a.m. We started today with ABC Family — No, “Bunheads” isn't coming back — and a panel for “Chasing Life.” But now, let's get down to Paul Lee business.
10:04 a.m. We're starting with a three-minute ABC sizzle reel to remind us of what network we're here for. It's the network of “Scandal” and dancing and Agent Coulson and same-sex weddings and “The Middle” and “Revenge” and “Castle” and new shows and stuff. And yes, your favorite ABC show also appeared in the sizzle reel. Don't worry. I just didn't mention it.
10:07 a.m. I'm very inspired by ABC now.
10:07 a.m. “It really sets out what our brand is,” Paul Lee says of the sizzle reel. “We feel we have some good momentum,” Lee says, acknowledging a “weak January and February,” claiming that the network still has holes, but “less and less.” He calls “Once Upon a Time” a “greatly underrated show,” claiming that it doesn't get the attention because it's a family show. “As I always say, we have put as much effort into the midseason as we have into the fall,” Paul Lee says, mentioning “American Crime” and saying that the network just signed an overall deal with John Ridley. He's also into “Fresh Off The Boat.”
10:10 a.m. Paul Lee repeats his upfronts story, that the network went to creators and said “Bring us your passion projects.”
10:10 a.m. Which shows will have split seasons? “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” will be pulled for “Agent Carter,” “Once” will have “Galivant” in the gap. “Scandal” will do 22 episodes this year and “How To Get Away With Murder” will air 15 or 16 episodes.
10:11 a.m. Will “Once Upon a Time” try to spin-off again? And what went wrong with “Wonderland”? He repeats, again, that the network should have used “Wonderland” as gap programming for “Once.” He praises the “Once” showrunners and says that they could still build out beyond the mothership, possibly. He says that “Once” already spreads out its world, as with Neverland and “Wicked” and the upcoming “Frozen” run.
10:13 a.m. How is “Rising Star” performing? And how does he feel about NBC's counter programming? Lee says they were “a little bit disappointed” with the initial numbers, but it's starting to build. He praises the production team for learning on the go. He says that Twitter performance is improving. “Let's see where it goes,” Lee says. Lee also thinks that the live-voting is set and the West Coast component is working as well. “We live in a competitive world. We all compete,” he says of NBC's various gambits.
10:15 a.m. Will there be a “Gallivant” soundtrack? They haven't decided what to do with the songs, but the office is singing along. “We have a glint in our eye that we really want to use that music beyond the show,” he says.
10:15 a.m. Paul Lee is not authorized to talk about integration between his Marvel shows and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He calls what they did “groundbreaking.” He admits that “S.H.I.E.L.D.” took a while to find its sea-legs, but that the back-nine built thanks to the integrations.
10:17 a.m. Yay! A title question. What are the conversations ABC has about titles for shows? He stands by both “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off The Boat” as titles. Anthony Anderson pitched the “Black-ish” story with the title. “And I backed them. You always want a title that will catch the eye and capture the imagination,” Lee says. He insists that as they've been screening the shows, they've been getting great reactions. Sigh.
10:18 a.m. What are “The Goldbergs” expectations? Lee says that that was another title that people feared might be a barrier to entry. “We love the idea of moving it to Wednesday,” Lee says, praising summer repeats. He thinks now that it's going to be perfect after “The Middle.” He thinks the show is “going to be discovered by a lot more people this year.” Lee also insists that “Blash-ish” is going to be a good lead-out for the Wednesday comedy block.
10:20 a.m. What's up with “The Quest,” which premieres later this summer? What are expectations? Lee calls the idea “groundbreaking” and dubs it “an interesting hybrid.” He wanted to save it for the summer to get out of the way of other launches. He calls it “a big swing” and “a risk.” Lee expects that they'll know very quickly if there's buzz for it once it premieres. “We would be happy with that one if it grows slowly, if it gets a passionate audience,” he says.
10:22 a.m. “It is a mission statement to reflect America,” Lee says of the lineup, which he calls “authenticity” more than diversity. He praises the “authentic, relatable stories.” “We embrace it. We love having a diverse slate But we think these shows are deeply relatable,” he says.
10:24 a.m. Is Lee drawn to fish-out-of-water stories because he is a fish out of water himself? “Is this a therapy session?” he asks. But he likes that being an outsider lets him look at things from a different angle. He thinks great stories will resonate anywhere in the world and he sits and commissions shows that move him, rather than sitting and commissioning shows as a Brit. “These are American stories. All of them. They reflect the faces and voices of America in a way that we're proud of,” he says. And one or two of them actually star Americans.
10:25 a.m. We're still not sure why “Trophy Wife” didn't succeed and we're especially not sure why Lee didn't use the post-“Modern Family” slot last season on either of its family comedies? Joe Adalian's being tough on this one. Go him! He says that they have, in the past, tried. Lee swears that they were happy with the pulse they got for “Goldbergs” and says that they were sad that they didn't get a pulse on “Trophy Wife.” He says the key to the job is to build two or three assets per year. He thinks “Goldbergs” will be an asset. He's “bullish” about this year's comedies, crediting the studio. He does not, in fact, answer the question. “We tried hard, toward the end of the season, to create really promotable episodes,” Lee says of “Trophy Wife.”
10:29 a.m. What was the tipping point on diversity? Lee says that the key is to have strong storytellers and executives in addition to just the right stars. He raves about ABC's diverse executive team. He wants the storytellers to also reflect America. Lee says that shows that lack diversity now feel dated. “America doesn't look like that anymore,” he says. “We don't think we're there yet, but we're very proud of the shows you talked about,” Lee says.
10:31 a.m. “There are certainly *some* restrictions,” Lee says of doing broadcast rather than cable. But Lee says that there's risk-taking television on all platforms, including digital and network. “People choose what they're passionate about,” he says. “Passion rules the universe,” he says, quoting Isaac Babel. He adds that sometimes the limitations can provide better storytelling.
10:32 a.m. More diversity! But let's talk about shows that are diverse that also discuss race explicitly. Have they had conversations with showrunners about calibrating those conversations? “Specificity is so key to great television and great storytelling,” he says. He notes that “The Middle” and “Modern Family” are also specific. “The truth is, it's as much about culture as it is about race,” Lee says, referencing “Black-ish.” “I watch 'Fresh Off The Boat' and I *am* that family,” Lee says, noting that we've all been fish-out-of-water. “The notion of being a family with a culture that doesn't necessarily jibe with the one around you is the American story,” Lee says.
10:35 a.m. Another smart question references how NON-specific “The Goldbergs” has been about its Jewishness. Will “Goldbergs” become a little more specific or not? Lee says that the country knows the family is Jewish. He says that Adam Goldberg grew up in a Reform Jewish family and he'll add more Jewishness when he wants to. “It's Adam's show and that's why it's so good,” Lee says.
10:37 a.m. What holes does Lee see in ABC's slate, in terms of programming types? There are holes in the schedule, Lee says, acknowledging that the question was actually about genres that ABC is missing. He says that ABC has opened out the multi-cam genre on Friday, adding “Cristela.” He says there may be other areas they'll target next season. “Within our brand of sophisticated, emotional television,” he thinks they had a good development slate last year.
10:38 a.m. In retrospect did Lee make a mistake of not putting “Trophy Wife” after “Modern Family”? He dodges the question again. “'Trophy Wife' wherever we put it, we just didn't connect with an audience and that's a sad thing,” Lee says.
That's all, folks…