August 08, 2011 1:55pm PT by Tim Goodman
ABC: Is This a Critic Proof Network? (Analysis)
Speaking only about programming, ABC clashes like plaid on plaid with television critics, who were just assembled for the Television Critics Association, which ABC closed out on today. In this show-us-your-wares event, you got the faint whiff of "Oh God, don't show us those again, we've seen the screeners." Mostly that's because new entertainment president Paul Lee came in at a time when ABC badly needed to find some hits to keep pace with CBS and Fox. Certainly the network was not decimated in the same way that NBC was, but something short of a wholesale revolution was at hand. And the slate of shows that Lee offered up seemed to particularly annoy the assembled masses, because most of it is "big tent" broadness that most critics don't go in for, plus some of it is heinously bad and the good parts -- yes there are some good parts -- were thus obscured.
This shotgun approach, with a good number of series seeming broad and the sitcom Work It being, well, spectacuarly awful and ill-advised, plus the why-even-botherness of Charlie's Angels, seemed to set the room on edge. But here's the thing about Lee, who launched BBC America in this country (he's no stranger to quality) and then turned ABC Family from nothing into something very important in the tween world, a programming and branding success that can't be underscored enough: He's not afraid to say he likes entertaining shows that have more than the patina of cheese on them. Translation: He's perfectly willing to give Americans something they want to digest easily even if the critical community is going to gag on it. So the guy knows his audience -- and the historical nature of the ABC brand -- and he's going to put an arrow right in the middle of that target.
Popular in this room? Not really. But there's something to say about knowing what's going to work for the job you've been hired to do. So when reporters asked Lee in ABC's executive session at the critic's press tour, whether his shows were not particularly dialed into reality, he said this:
"I think it’s our job to create television that questions how people feel in the world. So we didn’t sit down and go, 'Oh, there are the employment figures. Let’s build some shows.' We found three shows that made us cackle with laughter, and we put them on."
It's pretty safe to say that ABC's offerings are a real mixed bag and that many of the critics (yes, me included) were looking (dreaming?) not just for an explanation of but apology for shows like Work It, Man Up, Last Man Standing and Charlie's Angels at the very least. But the affable Lee was also unflappable and unapologetic, even after one critic -- in regard to Work It, about guys who cross-dress to get work -- said, "Seriously? Come on, Paul." (It wasn't me, though I take some pride in Lee thinking it was definitely going to be me). His response: