ABC – Executive Session
Q & A with Paul Lee – President of ABC
By: Valerie Milano
Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 8/4/15 – The ABC executive session, Paul Lee was all about accentuating the positive and revving up the troops. No doubt about it, in the last year, ABC has survived and thrived. They made the podium and took the bronze (third overall behind CBS and NBC) with close to 8 million nightly viewers. ABC also saw a 5% boost in regular season ratings in the lucrative 18 to 49 demo. The network’s linkage with Disney also helped their bottom line. However, in this brave new broadcast world, healthy ratings don’t automatically spin advertising mega-bucks like the days of yore. However, factor in time shifted viewing and ABC’s numbers are even more impressive. The network banked heavily on newbie crime drama American Crime and hit pay-dirt with ten Emmy nominations. Lee was equal parts proud papa and motivational speaker. Lucky the TCA wasn’t slamming down shots every time Lee uttered the word ‘great’, the entire hall would have been paralyzed by session’s end.
Lee’s opening statement was short on hard numbers and long on enthusiasm. PAUL LEE: We are obviously very pleased with the year that we had last year. When you look at the dramas, you know, TGIT was huge, I mean, something like 5 billion Facebook impressions over the year. I think we won. I think we beat when you add the multiplatform usage, I think we beat the football for Thursday night. And the new entrant on that night, How to Get Away with Murder, we are so proud of that show. And, I guess, if you take one thing from my comments this morning, it’s that I think Viola Davis should win that Emmy.”
ABC did well gambling on two new diversity themed sitcoms Blackish and Fresh Off the Boat. Meanwhile, reality mainstays Dancing with the Stars and Bachelor earned their keep and trended positively. Additionally, Celebrity Family Feud was a nice surprise as the No. 1 new show of the summer season.
Lee took us on a tour through the coming season’s rookie lineup, PAUL LEE: “So as we look through to next year, I really think we’ve got another great slate coming out. We are doing our normal strategic thing I talk about this every year of balancing great shows for both the fall and for midseason. So there are the popcorn shows, there are the page turners, and, then, there are the really intense dramas. Wicked City is going to be deeply intense. It’s a show that sort of repels and seduces in equal measure. Ed Westwick and Erika Christensen are really fascinating in that show, and we think it’s going to break some molds; The Catch, of course, with Peter Krause, who has now joined the cast with Mireille Enos, probably the most competitive piece of casting last year. We love The Catch. We think that’s going to be great. And The Family from Jenna Bans, the scripts are extraordinary. Joan Allen is going to kill this one. It’s really going to be a great show.”
The fall marks the return of Don Johnson in Blood and Oil and ABC obviously has anointed Priyanka Chopra as their breakout star, PAUL LEE: “And, then, for the fall, we have our two big soaps for Sunday night. Blood and Oil, Don Johnson is back. He’s here tomorrow. That show is great. Chace is great. Rebecca is great. And, then, at 10:00, we have Quantico, and Priyanka Chopra, you know, she’s a star. She’s a, sort of, iconic ABC star, and we think the whole world is going to be talking about Priyanka as we come through into the fall and start our big marketing campaign for that one.”
Lee then talked about ABC’s new comedy entries, “And, then, in comedy, I think Dr. Ken is a very good match for Last Man Standing on Friday. The scripts are really, really funny. And then The Muppets, I mean, Bill is really, with his whole team, reinventing and reinvigorating this brand. It’s just a really great show.”
Lee was asked what ABC is doing to insert itself into the world of binge programming and multiple platforms, PAUL LEE, “Well, look, we are in this world of On Demand. And not only are we in the world of On Demand, but we are true children of that world. If you think about how Scandal came about to be such a big hit, it became a big hit because we sold it, because it wasn’t a huge number, if you remember, in that first season. And then everybody watched it and binged it over the summer, and then they came roaring back to the show afterwards. We’re in that world — because certainly when I started the job, it was written in stone that procedurals were bigger than serialized shows. But now in an On Demand world, serialized shows can really drive things. I mean, if you think about it, five years ago there were all sorts of rules of broadcast that were written in stone, right. The racial makeup of a group, the likeability of leads, the moral clarity, can you do period drama or not period drama, and now we’re in a world where Felicity Huffman and Viola Davis can put in these incredibly morally complex performances, where we can do period, comedies and dramas, where we can really change it. And to the extent that we’ve been a part of that change, at the forefront of that change, now, we’re obviously very proud at ABC, but we are in a world that is a much more complex world. And we’re enjoying it, because it gives us the real opportunity to take risks and make what we consider to be great television at the different ends of the spectrum, from American Crime at the one end of the spectrum to TGIT at the other.”