ABC will unveil its new Shonda Rhimes Thursday in the fall, and new comedy Black-ish that got the plum post-Modern Family timeslot (though its showrunner Larry Wilmore has departed for Comedy Central where he will replace Stephen Colbert). This morning, on a phone call with reporters, ABC programming chief Paul Lee had to defend his move of Rhimes’ sexy Grey’s Anatomy to the broadcast-prudish 8 PM timeslot, as well as the cultural diversity of his new series. Let’s see how these primetime schedule moves play in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall to advertisers — and with Jimmy Kimmel:
4:12 PM ET: Anne Sweeney gives her final pitch to advertisers as co-chair of Disney Media Networks and Disney/ABC President, while people in the hall mull her decision to quit so she can go realize her dream of becoming a TV director. She introduces her successor, Ben Sherwood. He stands in the audience and salutes her. “Ben, I think you’re going to be great and I can’t wait to see you onstage next year,” she says. “Don’t forget — I’m still a shareholder.”
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4:39 PM ET: “Our shows rock — OK, that’s the upfront. Want to go to the pub?” ABC programming chief Paul Lee said opening his dog and pony show. Least objectionable programming is dead, he said. This year, Lee says he approached “some of the greatest storytellers in the world and asked them one thing: bring us your passion project — we’ll take off the handcuffs…And in my opinion they do not disappoint.” He said the new shows include “One of most blistering pieces of raw film ever scheduled on broadcast television” but didn’t say which show he was talking about. Jumping right in to address that which had reporters’ knickers in a knot earlier in the day, Lee said his new primetime schedule “most of all reflects the already changed face of America…We set out to reflect America,” he said, as he began to talk about new Wednesday comedy Black-ish.
4:45 PM ET: Lee calls Shonda Rhimes the Charles Dickens of this century — “If Charles Dickens had been black, and a woman.” He explains he’s given ABC’s Thursday to Rhimes, including Grey’s Anatomy at 8, Scandal at 9 and new How To Get Away With Murder at 10 — does not discuss controversy about moving Grey’s Anatomy to 8 PM that reporters pounded him on earlier in the day. When HTGAWM ends its run in March, new drama Secrets And Lies will move into the time slot. It has a 10-episode order. Secrets And Lies stars Ryan Phillippe as a guy who discovers the body of his neighbor’s young son in the woods and becomes a murder suspect.
4:55 PM ET: Lee describes Gavalant – the network’s new midseason musical half-hour from the “crazy stupid tangled brain” of Dan Fogelman (with musical team Alan Menkin and Glenn Slater). “It’s truly Spamelot meets Princess Bride.” Menkin performs onstage.
5:05 PM ET: Lee tells advertisers new new Tuesday comedy Selfie, a reboot of the Pygmalion story – or, as Lee calls it, “the My Fair Lady story” – about a young Eliza Dooley who, upon figuring out she’s self-obsessed, decides to learn how to connect with people in the real world — by turning to a marketing guru, name Henry Higgins. Following Selfie, Lee’s scheduled Manhattan Love Story, a “classic romantic comedy about why men and women have such a hard time getting along.”
After 9 PM’s Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.EL.D., which Lee acknowledged took lot of time to find sea legs, ABC has scheduled Forever about New York City’s star medical examiner Henry Morgan, who is trying to understand his own immortality. It’s from Matt Miller. Every time Morgan dies, he returns in water — and naked. It stars Ioan Gruffudd who Lee raved about, adding, “the only problem is — he’s Welsh.”
In January between two halves of S.H.I.E.L.D., ABC will air Marvel’s Agent Carter. Set in 1946, it follows the story of Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) who, with men returning from fighting abroad, finds herself marginalized and doing administrative work at the covert Strategic Scientific Reserve, while going on secret missions.
5:23 PM ET: Jimmy Kimmel shows the other networks’ comics how it’s done. Unfortunately, they’ve already appeared during their networks’ presentations:
Paul Lee saying Black-ish is probably the white-ish thing I’ve heard in years.
The ABC I work at is not No. 1. In fact we might need to crash on your couch for a while. Even Anne Sweeney was, “To hell with this.”
Our shows are mostly about superheroes and fairy tales. They may not be great but they make a great birthday party for a 6 year old.
It’s weird to see NBC doing well, it’s like if your adult cousin who works at Arby’s suddenly got a masters degree…What does NBC do? I’ll tell you — you double down and you hit them with Peter Motherf*cking Pan, and Music Man.
Mark Burnett described AD as Game Of Thrones Meets Borgias Meets The Bible. I read a pitch for the show, it’s Total meets Cluster meets F*ck.
Our creative leader, Paul Lee, says ‘Bring us your passion project, we’ll take off the handcuffs,” which sounds like something you’d say to a hooker.
[Spending ad money on ABC's new series] is like adopting kittens with cancer. Oh — too much? I’m sorry. Well then, you’re going to hate our new show, Kittens With Cancer.
5:40 PM ET: Lee gets around to that raw footage he referenced — of midseason drama American Crime. He introduces creator John Ridley (12 Years A Slave) who says he came to ABC “to write and direct a television pilot, and the only mandate I was given was to be bold.” American Crime is a racially charged drama that traces a single crime, viewing it from perspective of all the lives it touches. It stars Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman. ”I could not be more proud of American Crime,” Lee says.
5:38 PM ET: Lee winds up his presentation by reminding advertisers of one of ABC’s most successful, if aging, series: “Tomorrow night Mitch and Cam are finally getting married,” he says of the, “celebration of the iconic power of a show called Modern Family.” The actors emerge from a cake to take the stage.