TCA: ABC Boss Paul Lee On 'Grey's Anatomy,' 'Cougar Town,' 'Work It' and More

Paul Lee Brigitte Sire P 2011
Brigitte Sire

The ABC Entertainment Group President addresses the ratings disappointment of "Pan Am" and "Charlie's Angels" and the future of "The River."

ABC entertainment group president Paul Lee kicked off his network’s day before the television press with a crack at his own expense.

“Good morning,” he said, upon taking his seat on the Pasadena stage. “So, what did you think of Work It?”

Later in his session at the Television Critics Association press tour, Lee was forced to readdress the controversial cross-dressing comedy that was universally panned when it hit the schedule earlier this month. Though he claimed not to understand what the backlash from the LGBT community was all about, he is not sorry he put it on the air. As he sees it, there was room for "a very, very silly" show on a schedule full of more ambitious efforts.

PHOTOS: TCA's Notable Quotables

Here are his thoughts of some of other moves and series thus far this season:

The River

Lee loves the show as much as he seems to love the ability to namedrop the show’s executive producer Steven Spielberg. And why not, particularly if he can do it in a way that make it seem like Spielberg is heavily involved in the horror series from the Paranormal Activity team. As for its truncated eight episode season, that’s by design. Spielberg and the crew --see, there it was again-- felt eight episodes would be “just about the amount that [they could] really figure out the rhythms of the show,” said Lee, who is eager to screen the show on college campuses and theaters around the country. Can it live beyond those eight? Not if the audience rejects it, said Lee, who added that the team has more stories to tell if they do embrace it.

Pan Am/Charlie’s Angels

Wouldn’t it be nice if Lee could sit back on in his chair and apologize for the bomb that was Charlie’s Angels? Well, it didn’t happen. And it won’t happen. Instead, he served up this gem: “I don’t think we breathed life into that franchise but I think it was a strong attempt.” As for Pan Am, he said he’s not willing to throw in the towel just yet. New episodes will air through February and then the series will be in contention for next year’s schedule. So, um, yeah, don't believe "the Twitter!"

Cougar Town

Lee is all for the whacky events and other promo activities series co-creator Bill Lawrence has been launching without the network’s help. As a former showrunner himself, Lee claims he loves the idea that Lawrence can get his fans galvanized and excited -- not sure he feels as strongly about Lawrence sharing his thoughts on Work It. Still, Lee said he urges his other showrunners to “take a leaf out of Bill Lawrence’s book” when it comes to promoting projects. Now, are such things as a cross-country tour or Monday’s unofficial TCA event going to help the show get back on the air sooner? Nope, said Lee, who noted that its unlikely the series will return before March. 

General Hospital

Stop asking. Lee claims he doesn’t know if General Hospital will live on at ABC, nor does he know when such a decision will be made. What he will say is that he loves the show, and has a personal history in the soap space having gotten his start in telenovelas. 

Work It

We hate it. He gets it. Lee acknowledged that the show’s performance fell somewhere in between the critical community’s expectations and ABC’s expectations. But he’s not going to apologize for the choice he made to air it. He already had his ambitious shows on the schedule (see Once Upon a Time) and he ”thought there was room for a very, very silly show.” Plus, he's a Brit. Brits love cross-dressing shows. Move on.

Grey’s Anatomy

Will McDreamy and the gang remain on the series after their contracts expire this spring? Who knows? Some would say, who cares? And if Lee has knowledge or thoughts on the topic, he isn’t sharing. What he can tell you is that he adores Shonda Rhimes, who he said has “a vision like no one else” and knows exactly where this show is heading.

Don't Trust the B---- in Apt 23

It is a little outrageous? “Absolutely,” said Lee, noting that the Krysten Ritter vehicle also has a lot of heart. (Note: "heart" ranks about as high as "sticky" in Lee's lexicon.) He added that he would have launched it in the fall, but feared putting it up against Fox’s New Girl would have hurt its chances of breaking out. Why make audiences have to choose between Schmidt's bare chest and the "beek from the creek"? 

Dancing with the Stars

It’s not going away. Ever. Ok, not ever, but for “many, many years,” according to Lee, who calls himself a “huge fan of the show.” As for the fluctuation in ratings, the exec tried to argue it has less to do with age than it does casting. Guess that was his way of saying,
"Bristol Palin, if you're reading this, come back. Now."


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