ABC Boss Paul Lee Goes After Fantasy, Comedy and 'Pure Candy'

Patrick Harbron/ABC

With "Charlie's Angels," "Pan Am" and Tim Allen's "Last Man Standing," Lee adds a mix of monsters, fairy tales and escapist fare.

In the lead-up to Paul Lee's first upfront presentation, the new ABC entertainment chief concluded that escapist fare is what American TV viewers are after.

"People are looking for pure entertainment," the British-born Lee told a gathering of reporters at the network's pre-upfront breakfast Tuesday. "Strategically, we thought that these are times when fairytales play strongly, when monsters play strongly; when yearning for the glory days play strongly." 

It was the executive's explanation for lining his schedule with entries he calls "pure candy" (Charlie's Angels), "gloriously funny" (Good Christian Belles) and "a fabulous world" (Pan Am). Acknowledging that while his goal is not to be Lifetime, the quintessential women's network, he does have a core affluent female demo to serve -- and soapy dramas are what such viewers are seeking.

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Having kept his leanings tight to the vest through much of the development process --"classic Lee," noted one source-- the early morning presentation offered members of the media a window into Lee's tastes. For one, he's a big fan of The River, a horror drama from the Paranormal Activity team that falls outside of his network's typical soapy bend. After showing a clip that he says was toned down -- presumably for skittish ad buyers -- he suggested that the series could play well at fan fest ComicCon. He also hinted at giving it the Oscars as its premiere launch pad this spring, though it was too early to say anything definitive.

Lee was similarly high on comedies, noting that he thinks "the winds are really blowing behind comedy right now." So much so that he's adding a second night of comedy on Tuesdays, with a family block kicked off by Tim Allen's Last Man Standing. As a network scheduler explained post-breakfast, the Tuesday night block --which will expand to two hours once Dancing with the Stars concludes-- has the potential to skew more male. "Comedy gives us a chance to be balanced," Lee said of opportunity to bring more male viewers into the tent.

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To that end, Lee again made public his desire to revive a TGIF comedy block, once a staple of ABC's schedule. One insider suggested this would house more family friendly series in the Home Improvement and Roseanne vein as opposed to a Hanging With Mr. Cooper type show. Another noted Lee's desire to layer in some lower-cost offerings that would cost $900,000 to $1 million per episode to produce.

The other topics that got some play during Lee's meeting with the press were the significance of launch pads (a lesson Lee says he learned on cable) and the importance of rolling out series year-round. On more than one occasion, he made mention of the strength of his midseason offerings, which include Shonda Rhimes' Scandal, Missing, The River and GCB. He also said he plans to use the network's big events --New Year's Rockin' Eve, the Oscars and the NBA Finals-- to give his new offerings an immediate lift. 

ABC's fall schedule is here.


Twitter: @LaceyVRose