Nellie Andreeva

Paul Lee is going to take creative risks, and he is going to empower showrunners, the new ABC president said during the network’s portion of TCA today where he also defined the ABC brand as he sees it: “a smart network with a huge amount of heart and culturally defining shows”

“My real ambition is to make ABC Studios and ABC a real showrunner culture,” Lee said, stressing the fact that he is an ex-showrunner himself.  “From my perspective, the ability to allow showrunners to take risks, and for us to give them the air support that they can do that, is one of the most important parts of my job… So from my perspective, that combination between a potent brand and empowered showrunners can really give us a chance to succeed going forward into the future.”

Early in the morning, ABC announced the early renewal of 6 series, Modern Family, The Middle, Cougar Town, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Castle. Lee said he wasn’t concerned by the big ratings dropoff for Cougar Town after Modern Family, stressing that the sophomore comedy starring Courteney Cox “has found its voice.”

Unlike the same time last year when Modern Family, The Middle and Cougar Town were handed early renewals, today’s pickup announcement didn’t include any freshman shows, which have largely underperformed. Two first-year shows received praise from Lee. He called Detroit 1-8-7, “a gritty, brilliantly written show which we’re very proud of”, a “very, very high-quality show” that “gets better” and Better with You “a really funny show.” But Lee said he doesn’t expect the network to make any decisions on the future of its freshman shows “for two to three months.”

Lee said the network brass are “very pleased” with the season premiere numbers for V. “We made sure it was ten episodes so we could quality control those episodes.  And we also brought a whole load of new ideas into it, so we’ve tried to really amp up the level of adrenaline in that show.” He also addressed the ratings failure of the Dancing with the Stars spinoff Skating with the Stars. “I think maybe we put them too close together, or we made something whose DNA was really too close together,” Lee said. As for the new season of ABC’s The Bachelor, it “is going to be delicious and funny,” he said.

Lee also discussed the decision to launch comedies at 10 PM. “Does the audience have an appetite for comedy at 10 o’clock, sort of small bite‑sized chunks of fun before we go to bed kind of feeling?  Yes, we know that this is true.  It’s certainly a risk we wanted to take it for. If it works, that’s really going to pay off for us dramatically.  If it doesn’t, well, you know, I have a twinkle in my eye that I’d like to see too, and I’m being overambitious here, so you’ll probably hold me to this point when I next sit down again.” If it doesn’t work,  “you’ll see us move to two nights, we hope, in the next schedule.”

ABC has already ordered 3 pilots, a drama about a professional fixer from Shonda Rhimes and two comedies, Chris Moynihan’s Man Up and Reich and Cohen’s Smothered. Asked about his pickup plans, “I think it will be a combination of procedurals and serialized risk‑taking shows on different sides, but we’re starting to see some really good scripts coming in,” he said. He called network TV “a risky business” where “the biggest failures and successes have come from the things that you haven’t seen before.”

Lee revealed a geeky side by confessing that he was a “passionate fan” of The Hulk or O Incrivel Hulk, how he knew it while he was working on a Brazilian soap opera. Lee called the chance to do Marvel-branded series “a superb opportunity”, noting that the two currently in development, Hulk, with Guillermo del Toro and David Eick, and Jessica Jones with Melissa Rosenberg, both of which won’t necessarily be done on cycle, “won’t be the only two Marvel things that we do going forward.”

Lee also stressed the tremendous importance of marketing for a broadcast network. “A broadcast, you know, it is big tent. .. But anybody who sits on broadcast and doesn’t believe they are in a fragmented universe is kidding themselves.  We compete, and we don’t just compete with all of the other broadcast shows that are launching at the same time in the fall.  We compete against powerful scripted shows from cable and otherwise, and we compete against other media.  So, for me, marketing is critical.”

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