[08/01/10 - 12:11 PM]
ABC at TCA: Lee Just 36 Hours Into New Job
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

LOS ANGELES (thefutoncritic.com) -- "I am, as you can probably guess, super unprepared," incoming ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee told reporters at the network's executive session at the TCA Summer Press Tour. "I've been in the job for 36 hours. I apologize in advance if I don't have all the answers to all the questions."

Not surprisingly, the bulk of those unanswered questions revolved around his predecessor, Steve McPherson. "I don't want to talk about Steve," he confessed, a standard line throughout the day thus far.

With no programming announcements or schedule changes, the session ultimately became a discussion of Lee's philosophy going forward. A self-professed fan of "Modern Family," "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy," Lee called ABC "one, in my view, of the premier, iconic American storytelling brands. I grew up watching this on far-off shores, and it's a great honor to be a part of that."

As far as his pedigree, having come from BBC America and most recently ABC Family, Lee said, "They're very, very different networks. It was a very different job to get my brain around what the BBC would be like in America, because it wasn't what it looked like in London. We felt it was a very different job to say what would a millennial brand look like? We're optimistic and within Walt Disney Company. This is a whole new challenge, and I certainly don't want to say I'm going to be doing the same thing here as we did there."

He would later add, "But if I do get the chance here, as we did in the last couple of jobs, to take some risks, make some great shows, have some surprises and still do it to a defined target audience, hopefully it's going to be a lot of fun."

It's not an entirely new audience to Lee though. "We went out of our way to really identify and target a millennial audience [at ABC Family, whereas] this is a core 18-49 channel. But there are similarities in that particular demographic, because this is the first year... when the 18-49 demographic has actually dominated. 51 percent of that is millennial."

Lee in general didn't reveal any preferences in terms of procedurals versus serialized dramas, multi-camera versus single-camera comedies and so forth, nor any particular reliance to make decisions: "I remember when we tested the British 'Office.' It was the worse-tested show I had ever tested in my life as an executive. And that's because it broke rules. We never tested 'Secret Life of the American Teenager.' That may have been the same thing. So sometimes you get a counterintuitive response from testing. On the other hand, ignore testing at your peril, because it will often tell you weaknesses that you are too self-deceptive to realize yourself."

Additionally, Lee presented himself as fully aware of the hard decisions one ultimately makes in his job. "I was still getting e-mails about "Middleman," which got a terrible rating... and we only gave it the first run. In the end, it's about will the show over time not only grow creatively, match the network, and hopefully, have you got the patience to do that? And they're very, very difficult decisions. Even on the smaller cable networks that I've lived on, there were shows I was passionate about that we knew would never reach enough of a rating point, and they're tough. They're the worst parts of this job, because you're calling out people you love that you worked with to say, 'You know what? I think it would work on Syfy.' They're tough moments, even on cable."

  [august 2010]  


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