Upfronts 2012: ABC Chief Opens Up About Marvel Hopes, Broad Comedy and His Own Status

Paul Lee Brigitte Sire P 2011
Brigitte Sire

Paul Lee discuss a potential new tagline, the strength of "Once Upon a Time" and the Friday night plan he's finally able to put in place.

Hours before Madison Avenue buyers pile into Avery Fisher Hall for ABC’s upfront presentation Tuesday, Entertainment Group president Paul Lee took time to tout a collection of what he calls “delicious” and “brilliant” new shows.

On the line for a conference call with reporters, the former BBC executive was back in superlative mode, peddling his 10 new series including country music drama Nashville, alien comedy The Neighbors and action drama Last Resort, which he insists tested “extremely well” with ABC’s core female viewers. 

STORY: ABC's 2012-13 Schedule

Here’s a look at some of the more interesting things Lee discussed:

The ABC Brand

Lee sure does love his brand. There’s been a lot of internal talk in recent weeks about what ABC stands for, with Lee famously interested in selecting shows, in part, because of their ability to be sold on a billboard. During his midday conversation with reporters Tuesday, he revealed that a video reel his network would be airing at its upfront presentation later in the day would include the tagline: “Why just watch when you can feel?” He's keen on the idea of incorporating it into ABC’s on-air marketing material but has yet to make any decisions there. He said of his shows, “Everything we do is about emotional connection.”

More Marvel

The historic box-office success of Disney-owned Marvel’s The Avengers was not lost on Lee. While the ABC chief is staying mum on specifics, he acknowledged that he’s developing a few projects from the Marvel canon. Depending on the franchise and its tone, he says he’s eager to develop Marvel projects for his own network as well as others -- as he attempted to do with The Punisher at Fox -- through his ABC TV Studios. As for the long-gestating Hulk, Lee said it wasn’t ready for this fall but he's hopeful about the following year. Bottom line: “We would like to see some Marvel projects come to television,” said Lee.

STORY: Upfronts 2012: Complete Network Scorecard

Lots of Laughs

Lee loves them. And what’s not to love when you have the No. 1 comedy -- which also happens to be the No. 1 series -- in Modern Family, which he calls “the defining comedy of our time.” Much as Fox’s Kevin Reilly has spent years trying to get his live-action comedy block right, Lee has wanted to re-create a family comedy block on Fridays since he walked in the door nearly two years ago. Come November, he’ll finally get his wish with Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing and Reba McEntire’s Malibu Country airing back-to-back. “I think its time for Friday night to be a destination again for broad family comedy,” he said of the multicamera offerings.

Shark Tank Strength

Jimmy Kimmel spoke too soon. On this day last year, the ABC late-night host stood before Madison Avenue buyers and jokingly blasted the entrepreneur competition show. "We're excited about all of our shows. Except Shark Tank. We have no idea how that got back on the schedule. You know what someone should invent on Shark Tank? A replacement for Shark Tank," the comedian said at the time to big laughs. But Lee is glad nobody did because he now calls the Friday night show a “huge asset” for the network, which benefits from family co-viewing.

Status Check

Acknowledging that taking a broadcast network chief gig is the equivalent of strapping a target to your back, Lee said he’s “pleased” with his performance thus far. He reminded reporters on the conference call Tuesday that he arrived with a full plate of needs care of the network’s many aging or departing series, including the now-finished Desperate Housewives. “In these jobs, it’s about building for the future,” he said. “It’s about the long game.” Lee singled out the “gratifying” success of rising sophomore drama Once Upon a Time, an out-of-the-box show, which has performed for his network and the larger Disney portfolio. Also worth noting, as he did: ABC has become particularly appealing to film folks, with Dan Fogelman (The Neighbors), Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Zero Hour) and Twilight’s Melissa Rosenberg (Red Widow) all scoring series pickups this month.

Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com; Twitter: @LaceyVRose