ABC’s New Management Paul Lee Faces TV Critics

By Fred Topel A bombshell hit ABC network right before their new fall season when former President Steve McPherson resigned. His replacement, Paul Lee, met the Television Critics Association this morning during their fall press tour.

“I am, as you can probably guess, super unprepared,” Lee told the TCA press. “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. I’m looking forward to rolling my sleeves up and getting those answers in the coming weeks. I’m clearly very excited about this. This is one of, in my view, the premiere iconic American storytelling brands. I grew up watching this on far off shores. It’s a great honor to be a part of that.”

ABC executive VP Kevin Brockman opened the morning by bringing a pink plush elephant to the stage, and insisting that no one would say any more than ABC’s official statement about McPherson’s departure. Lee deflected too.

“I’d just been on vacation,” Lee said. “I said to my wife, ‘Should we do this job?’ She said it’s going to be great, lots of hard work, take the opportunity, it’s going to be brilliant. I’ve been dealing with my family. Honestly, I can’t really answer that. I felt very honored to be offered the job but I don’t want to talk about Steve.”

Lee comes from ABC Family, the sister cable network. He was not involved with any of the new shows coming to ABC this fall, but he has researched the series. His first official order of business was greeting the Television Critics Association.

“Really this is my first course of duty. We drove in, I’ve been on the job for 36 hours. I’ve seen all the pilots because ABC Family is a sister network. We’ve had a lot of fun working with the network, cross promoting. Don’t forget, ABC Family is in the business of promoting the fall schedule of ABC. We’ve worked together lots. I know these pilots well. In this job, literally 36 hours.”

So what kind of shows will Lee be bringing to ABC next year? “I think it’s too early to sit down and take a view of where we think our heads are going to come from next year. I did have the chance and privilege to speak with a lot of the show runners in the last couple of days. There’s an amazingly talented group of show runners and on screen talent. You guys are going to see really serious stars and fresh faces. We do have a strong lineup coming in and I’m looking forward to seeing the lineup.”

For the current shows, Lee is a big fan of Modern Family. He predicts it will win the Emmy this year.

“Quality storytelling is what it’s all about. I feel very honored to inherit a network defined by the Grey’s, Desperates, Dancings, and Losts. I’ll spend a week or two getting into the brand and how it lives and breathes. Certainly my wife and I are watching Modern Family every night. We still watch Grey’s and Desperate. By the way, The Bachelor is having a great summer too. Clearly we watch shows on other networks. I am a fan of Criminal Minds and my wife is excited to discover this is part of my life now.”

Lee went on to discuss demographics, development strategies and network identities with the press. “I think there’s no question that this is a more difficult job than running ABC Family because you have more time on cable. That’s one of the things we used to love. Let’s stick by our show. I do think whatever the pressures are, it is the job. If you think a show is going to make it over time, and comedies tend to build slowly, to try and build it. We are all slaves to ratings. Sometimes there are a passionate fan base for a show that will never have a large audience. First of all, they are different audiences. We went out of our way to really identify and target a millennium audience. This is a core 18-49 demographic. This is the first year the 18-49 demographic is dominating 51% that as millennial. I’m not saying there aren’t things where the Ven diagram of those two networks intersect, but they’re very different networks.”

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