ABC programming chief Paul Lee spent a surprising amount of time this morning on the phone trying to calm reporters whose undies seemed bunched over the move of Grey’s Anatomy to 8 PM Thursday (to make room for Shonda Rhimes new drama How To Get Away With Murder at 10 PM) and the quantity of the culturally diverse new series Lee has ordered for next season.
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“We wanted to reflect the changed face of America,” Lee explained, in re the new series’ cultural diversity. But his comment also applied to the many questions he took on his move of Grey’s Anatomy into the timeslot that, decades ago, was known as The Family Hour. It’s a notion that, practically speaking, ended years ago for American viewers, thanks to the more adult original programming now available in the hour on cable and other programing platforms, and via DVR viewing, etc. But, it’s a concept to which some watchdog groups, politicians, advertisers – and reporters, apparently – have clung. Lee noted the move was made, not to push the envelope but because the network has “stumbled” at 8 on Thursdays in the past “so this made all the sense in the world.”
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“I think that’s much less relevant than it was five years ago,” Lee said when one reporter asked if ABC’s sales department got the vapors over the move. Lee answered that the network is “really happy with Grey’s there” and that the ad department was supportive; he insisted the network has a strong S+P department and that he has no doubt Grey’s will play well at 8, adding, ”It’s not an issue.”
But he thought better of that after taking a slew of questions on the subject and, when asked by the phone operator if he had any closing comments at the end of the call, took one last whack at the Grey’s controversy, saying “I think Grey’s going to be fine,” reiterating that S+P will make sure whatever airs at 8 on Grey’s will be “appropriate – that’s my only extra comment.”
Lee’s new schedule includes a Shonda Rhimes’ Thursday in which, as mentioned, sexy med drama Grey’s Anatomy has been moved back, just so it can remain paired with her sexy Washington fixer drama Scandal, which is moved to 9, so as to make way for her new sexy law professor drama How To Get Away With Murder at 10 PM. The legal drama stars Viola Davis as the seductive professor who gets entangled with four law students from her class. Meanwhile, Lee’s new comedies include Black-ish, starring Anthony Anderson as a father wondering if success has brought too much assimilation for his black family – it’s landed the plum posts-Modern Family timeslot on Wednesdays at 9:30 PM. And, Cristela, starring Cristela Alonzo as a Mexican-American who has landed an internship at a prestigious law firm, landed the Fridays 8:30 PM slot following Last Man Standing. Among ABC’s midseason orders are Fresh Off The Boat, based on Chef Eddie Huang’s memoir of same name; it’s about an 11-year-old who has just moved to suburban Orlando from Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown. Also ordered for midseason is drama American Crime, about an attack on a young couple in Modesto, CA that stirs up tensions across racial lines.
“We really do think ABC reflects the new face of America,” Lee, a Brit, said during his phone Q&A in advance of his presentation to advertisers this afternoon at Lincoln Center. He noted that both ABC hits Scandal and Modern Family “represent diversity — and both really resonated with the country.”
“Scandal has become a huge hit. And we do think America has changed…. It’ s the right thing to do now,” Lee continued. He said Cristela Alonzo, for instance, is a “a total natural – like she’s been born on a multi-cam set” Le said, and a “strong Latina voice.”
More mundanely, Lee noted his lineup’s Monday stability, and that on Tuesday his network is now the only network doing comedy — both new and both having to self-start at 8 PM. On Wednesdays he forecast The Goldbergs — sandwiched between The Middle and Modern Family — is perfectly positioned to stay on the network for a very long time. Thursdays, Lee says he’s not worried that Scandal will go head-to-head with NBC’s powerhouse The Blacklist at 9 because “the truth is you can have hits on different networks in the same time periods” in this era of DVR-ing.
One reporter singled out Trophy Wife among ABC’s many canceled comedies — a list that also includes Suburgatory, Super Fun Night, The Neighbors and Mixology — scolding Lee for not having given it the plum post-Modern Family timeslot. Lee said he too was “sad to see it go” and that he had given it a lot of promotion “in a whole lot of different ways…and in the end I’m sorry it didn’t come back.”