Edinburgh TV Fest: ABC Execs Talk Diversity, Finding Talent Around the World

Patrick Moran and Keli Lee -Split-Getty-H 2016
Andrew Chin/Getty Images; Michael Kovac/Getty Images

Keli Lee and Patrick Moran addressed the Edinburgh Television Festival in a "Gamechanger" session.

Diversity and the search for the best talent around the world were in focus Thursday as Keli Lee, managing director, international content & talent at ABC Entertainment Group, and Patrick Moran, executive vp of ABC Studios, addressed the Edinburgh Television Festival.

They appeared in a “Gamechanger” session of the fest. Among the topics was why ABC decided to get ahead of the curve on exploring diverse talent and internationally driven concepts.

"It wasn't diversity for diversity's sake," Moran explained when asked about the company's push in recent years to feature more diverse casts on TV screens. "Shows didn't reflect the world we live in" anymore.

Lee, formerly ABC’s executive vp of casting, was promoted to her current post late last year and relocated to London. "We will track down the best talent anywhere," she said, explaining that she identified Indian star Priyanka Chopra, who ABC ended up signing and casting in Quantico.

Lee said she is now traveling across Europe to meet actors and actresses, producers, writers and directors. She has not signed any U.K. talent yet, but said she was looking at people already.

What has driven the company's international interest? Did it want to go abroad or feel it had to? Lee said it was both. "The competition for talent is so fierce in the U.S.," she explained.

Why did Lee end up being based in the U.K.? "It's the hub for so much talent," she said. "And the language helped."

Asked if ABC could look to acquire production companies in international markets, Moran and Lee said they were for now focused on organic growth.

Moran hinted that short-form digital could be a next frontier for the studio. "That's probably the next thing we want to conquer" after international, he said. He signaled that could allow the company to incubate talent.

Moran, a former senior vp drama who came from 20th Century Fox TV, where he was drama head, was elevated to his current post during the summer of 2013.

Asked how the increase in the amount of original series affects ABC Studios, Moran replied, "It makes the environment we're in more competitive." But he said his team has become more nimble in dealmaking and has further sharpened its focus on getting the right content onto the right network or platform.

And what are the two most looking for? "We are looking at shows that could be relevant really to a global audience," said Lee. Moran added that having a specific worldview seems to make stories more global as well. "We really get most excited when someone gets very specific about what they want to say," he said.

ABC Studios has signed deals with such talent as How to Get Away With Murder star Viola Davis, Scandal star Kerry Washington, American Crime creator John Ridley and McG.