THR's Tim Goodman Analyzes ABC Boss Paul Lee's TCA Speech

1 BIZ Speeches Paul Lee P IPAD
Illustration: Alex Fine

"Let me give you what you want and deserve: an apology in advance for 'Work It.' I apologize to the world. And to 'Bosom Buddies.' Now, from you I want an apology as well -- for mocking our fall chances. 'Revenge?' 'Suburgatory?' 'Once Upon a Time?' Hits, you nonbelievers!"

What he got right: Balance, spin, hypnotic transgressions. No, seriously, ABC entertainment president Paul Lee opened up his TCA executive session with critics and reporters by asking, “So, what do you think of Work It?” Comedy as deflection is not unique to executive sessions here, but the way he pulled it off was impressive because he managed to talk for 30 minutes and appear to be giving updates (new shows, old shows) and addressing concerns (Cougar Town, Work It, etc.) and looking forward to midseason while also, like magic, giving out no discernible information of substance.


Lee is actually quite open and accessible and not one to intentionally dodge but should get some credit for A) not gloating about the success of fall shows like Suburgatory, Revenge, Once Upon A Time, which B) allows him to casually dismiss failures like Work It, Charlie’s Angels, Pan Am, etc. And just when you start to hone in on something like the machinations of Cougar Town, Lee casually drops the notion that Pan Am is very much alive. It is?

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What he got wrong: Well, he did make Work It, didn’t he? And though he didn’t give it a ringing endorsement, neither did he indicate it’s fading into the dustbin of really bad shows. Also, come on, Pan Am is over. Don't kid us. Or, in that case, make threats. Oh, and Lee loves the Web word "sticky" a little too much.

The takeaway: ABC has done well enough to avoid any quick (and possibly wrong) judgments. It produced hits where some people didn’t see much potential. It shuffled away shows that stunk up its schedule. Of course, if Pan Am really is alive, it may have more to do with ABC’s staggered launches through the year – normally a great idea – and would set a bad precedent of shows taking long breaks that lose an audience. (So let’s just assume Pan Am is not a long-term concern.) Also, ABC has some midseason offerings – The B In Apartment 23 and The River in particular – that could make a significant impact. (And yes, begrudgingly, so could GCB – maybe even more than the others.) So ABC is sitting right in the middle of “doing pretty well” and “moving on up,” which means it’s a network in progress.

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Quotes of note:

"It’s sexy, it’s sticky, it’s more-ish as the Brits say – you just want more of it." Lee on Revenge. Moorish? Hmm.

"I think we’ve got some great shows coming up – obviously you guys will take your own views of it."

Lee on The River: "We don’t know if people are going to come for it, but it’s extraordinary television."

Scandal will get Grey’s Anatomy lead-in. “It’s so interesting this show, it’s so sticky."

Lee on staggered rollouts: "I think my job is to bring great television and spend the year launching."

Lee on Cougar Town creator Bill Lawrence being a "pirate," or someone willing to be a force from the outside: “I used to be a pirate when I ran a show and now I’m kind of the Navy."

Lee, on the word "bitch," which was initially in the titles of Don’t’Trust the Bitch In Apartment 23 and Good Christian Bitches, but is now, obviously not: “On broadcast it’s not a word you want to use in the title.”

Lee on CBS’s CSI: "A good show well marketed.”

“The heart of our brand is the single camera.” Multi-camera? “It’s something we’d like to build out."

Chances of a Work It renewal?  "I think Work It…It’s right in the middle. We’ll see where it goes in the next few weeks."

Lee on Once Upon A Time: "It was great to see that incredibly well-made television works."

Lee, on marketing, etc.: "In the end, it’s all about the shows.”

Lee on Pan Am:  "There’s such a feeling of good will toward that show.” There is?

Lastly:  "I think Dancing With the Stars has many, many more seasons to come."


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