ABC Entertainment Topper Touts Strong Returning Bench, New Slate Of 'Big Swing' Shows

Getty Images

"We’ve done a lot of work getting to the starting line. We know it's a long race," said ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee.

BEVERLY HILLS – ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee touted the network’s affluent female audience, a new slate of “big swing” series and a strong bench of returning shows including Emmy-winning comedy Modern Family and Dancing with the Stars during the network's opening session at the Television Critics Association press tour Sunday morning.

The network is opening up a new night of comedy on Tuesday with sitcoms Last Man Standing starring Tim Allen and Man Up. And Lee asserted that the network’s slate of male-headlined comedies and female-driven dramas including 1960’s-set Pan Am, dark drama Revenge, fairy tale drama Once Upon A Time and a reboot of Charlie’s Angels will broaden its palate while also continuing to appeal to its core female demographic.

“Empowered women are definitely a part of the network. It’s aspirational television and it’s great story telling,” said Lee. “It’s one of the reasons our [ad rates] are so high. Our advertisers know that we deliver that audience.”

Lee talked up buzzed-about midseason series including the Texas-set drama Good Christian Belles, Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal and comedy Apartment 23 that will help to keep the network's schedule fresh throughout the season.

“Apartment 23 is slightly under-rated,” he said. “I think it’s extraordinary.”

He did not necessarily defend cross-dressing buddy comedy Work It, which has been privately pilloried by rival network executives and as well as TV critics.

“I’m a Brit,” he laughed. “I have to do a cross-dressing show every year. I grew up with Monty Python. What can I do?”

It is Lee’s first slate since taking over after the abrupt exit of his predecessor Steve McPherson days before last summer’s TCA. Lee was called back from vacation and thrust before the media to walk reporters through a slate of shows he had nothing to do with. Now that he’s been in the job a year, he had more to say. But he wasn’t pressed particularly hard on the network’s woes: few returning freshman series from last season, once-dominant Desperate Housewives heading into its final season and Grey’s Anatomy beginning to show its age. But he did allow, “It’s a crazy job running [a broadcast network].”

As a former director, he added, “It’s like being on a shoot every day. You have things coming at you constantly. And you have no hiatus. Obviously there’s a lot to do. We’ve done a lot of work getting to the starting line. We know it's a long race. But I think we’ve got a fantastic team both on the network side and the studio side. I think it’s an interesting time for broadcast television. Clearly we’re in a business where there’s a lot of failure. And we’ll stumble more than we’ll succeed.”

Lee ended the session by bringing Marc Cherry onstage to talk about the decision to end Desperate Housewives – arguably the show that along with Lost and Grey’s Anatomy – re-invented the network.

“I think the only thing harder than creating a hit show is knowing when to end it,” said Cherry. “It’s something that’s weighed on my mind for quite a while now. Because I’ve been working in television for 23 years, I’m incredibly aware of shows that overstay their welcome. I wanted to go out while the network still saw us as a viable show and while we’re still doing well in the ratings.”

Desperate Housewives averaged 11.8 million viewers last season down from a high of nearly 24 million in its first season.

Cherry said he’s brainstorming a finale that will bring many of the characters back to the show and did not rule out Nicollette Sheridan’s Edie Britt. He also said he’s reworking Hallelujah, the musical drama starring Donal LogueFrances O’Connor and Jesse L. Martin. Lee did not pick up the pilot to series. But he confirmed it is still in development for the 2011-12 season.

“Half of [the pilot] was terrific and half of it wasn’t. I said to Paul, ‘This is so complex, I [need] the time to do this right,’” said Cherry, adding that running a show and writing a pilot simultaneously was a bit overwhelming.

“I never had to do that before. It’s hard. When I was writing Desperate Housewives, I was broke and unemployed and had a lot of time to go it right. [Hallelujah] is a big swing. We’ll do it when it’s ready.”


Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie