ABC Chief on 'Muppets' Troubles, 'Wicked City's' Demise and the Future of 'Quantico'

Paul Lee also addressed the potential confusion between his 'American Crime' and FX's 'American Crime Story.'
Paul Lee

Paul Lee trotted out on stage Saturday touting a "strong fall" at ABC.

"Every year, you have to add a couple of assets, and we believe with Quantico we have a real asset," the ABC Entertainment Group president explained during his time before the Television Critics Association. He praised lead Priyanka Chopra, whom he labeled the "quintessential ABC star," and insisted the fast-paced series has a long life ahead. 

Before Lee opened himself up to questions from the room full of reporters, he also pushed the four series he'll be premiering in March and teased ABC's forthcoming Bernie Madoff miniseries Madoff and Shonda Rhimes' The Catch with well-received footage. (Of the latter, he acknowledged he won't see the revised pilot until next week; what he showed was simply the first scene he had seen.) Then came the press queries, and suddenly Lee was forced to address the quick demise of heavily promoted Wicked City and the troubles at The Muppets, both of which contributed to ABC's third-place fall finish (tied with Fox) among the all-important 18-49 demographic.

Here are the highlights from Lee’s half-hour before the press:

Wicked City’s Demise

Despite heavy (heavy) promotion, Wicked City became the first network series to get the hook this fall. Lee acknowledged that the anthology drama — which in its first installment followed a murder case that had bubbled up around the cocaine-happy Sunset Strip — “might have been” off-brand for ABC, but he has no regrets about giving it a shot. “You’re in a much worse place in these jobs if you’re not taking big swings and you’re trying to eek out some B-pluses,” he stated, before directly addressing the series’ demise: "It didn’t find an audience, and we didn’t have any belief that it would in the long term.” 

The Muppets' Shake-up

Given the critical disappointment and November showrunner change, Lee was ready to field a Muppets question with a degree of candor. “Expectations were very high,” he said, crediting a strong ABC’s campaign, “but we didn’t quite feel that it had the joy, the laughter and the heart that we were looking for.” He’s confident that Galavant’s Kristin Newman — who the network and its sibling studio brought in to replace co-creator Bob Kushell — will be able to inject those qualities into the franchise. Added Lee, “We have very high hopes.”

American Crime vs. American Crime Story

Just how worried is Lee about viewers confusing his John Ridley anthology series American Crime, which launched its second season this week, with FX's Ryan Murphy anthology series American Crime Story, which premieres Feb. 2? "They went after us and yes we did have a conversation," he said, without providing any more detail. (The first season of the latter is now technically titled The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.) But after praising his critically beloved series, Lee said, "There’s probably room for both."

The Real O’Neals Backlash

Lee is even less concerned about the Catholic groups who have been busy protesting his forthcoming comedy, The Real O’Neals, which revolves around a family that's turned upside down when their youngest son (played by Noah Galvin) comes out of the closet. “When that audience sees the show, they’ll see that it’s a beautifully made show,” he said of a comedy that he insists is full of “family, faith, joy and humor." Lee, who suggested his Irish-Catholic wife is already a big fan, added that the series is “extremely high quality,” and he “backs it 100 percent.”

The Future Of …

Without offering any hints or spoilers, Lee insisted that he sees no end in sight for Connie Britton's Nashville. As for even-longer running Castle, he'd love to keep the franchise going for "many years to come," and he's currently having conversations about the possibilities if the current stars opt not to remain with the series.