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ABC's Paul Lee: 'We'd Love to Make a Marvel Franchise Work'

Paul Lee
© Disney

PASADENA -- Calling the network a “brand that combines smart with heart,” ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee stressed his ambition for ABC to become a place that embraces the showrunner culture.

Lee, a former showrunner, noted that the net is looking for new voices that could redefine TV in the future. “From my perspective, that’s a combination between a potent brand and empowered showrunners.”

With Shonda RhimesGrey’s Anatomy and Private Practice being joined on the schedule by Jenna BansOff the Map — on which she serves as an exec producer – Lee said the showrunner culture “informs everything that I do.”

“You want to make sure the show you’re doing fits the network it’s on,” he said Monday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour here. “A Big 10 network like ABC has a lot of room for experimentation. Our job as executives is to empower. The ability to allow showrunners to take those risks and for us to give them the support is one of the most important parts of our jobs.”

“Empowered showrunners start to give their shows distinctive voices you haven’t seen on TV,” Lee said. “Big failures come from that and you have to be ready to fall on your face. But brand-defining television comes from that. I encourage that; we don’t want cookie-cutter television.”

Lee added that recent development deals from the Marvel universe for Jessica Jones (from Melissa Rosenberg of Dexter and Twilight) and The Incredible Hulk, from Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labrynth) were an example of the importance of working with strong showrunners. “These are A-list showrunners we think are critical,” he said.

“We’ve got a little glint in our eye that we’d love to make a Marvel franchise work on our network,” Lee said. “We have the properties to do it, and they won’t be the only two properties we do, either.”

Lee also touted ABC’s strong roster of comedies — ABC announced pickups of Cougar Town, The Middle and Emmy-winner Modern Family just head of Lee’s session. The network will program three hours of comedy on Wednesdays this spring. And while Lee acknowledged that “[comedy at 10 p.m.] is certainly a risk,” he said, “If it works, it will pay off dramatically.”

ABC this morning also announced pickups for Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. And Lee said he expects Desperate Housewives to also be back next season, but the network is still working out some contracts; “We’re not quite there yet.”
Lee also said that limited-run series are a form he’d like to explore on ABC. And while he cautioned that Salma Hayek’s eight-hour adaptation of Wicked was still in the early stages of development, he said the story is “epic and romantic and it’s in our brand.”
Of course, unscripted has done heavy lifting for ABC so far this season with Wipeout and Dancing with the Stars – featuring the controversial Bristol Palin – far out-rating any of ABC’s new programs.
Asked if he was tempted to recruit Palin – who has also appeared on the ABC Family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager – for another ABC property, Lee demurred; “I haven’t tought about that.”
But he acknowledged that casting is key on Dancing, which is expected to be back in March and has yet to reveal its new season cast.
“We won’t have Bristol Palin,” he said. “We will have something different.”

Marisa Guthrie contributed to this report.