ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee has finalized a new multi-year deal to remain at the helm of the broadcast network and its sibling ABC Studios. With ABC News president Ben Sherwood recently tapped to succeed Anne …
Incoming Disney/ABC TV Group President Ben Sherwood On Getting The Big Job, His Learning Curve & ABC Topper Paul Lee
It has been a whirlwind of three months for Ben Sherwood. In December, he signed a new long-term contract with ABC News, which he had led since December 2010. Now he has been given the keys to a much bigger Disney TV kingdom, named the successor to Anne Sweeney as co-chairman, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group. “It was as quick as it seems,” Sherwood said of the hiring process. He said he learned the surprising news that Sweeney would be stepping down in February 2015 to become a TV director along with everyone else when she and Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger made the announcement less than two weeks ago. “There was a very clear succession plan,” Sherwood said. “(Iger) had a number of conversations with people internally and reached the decision pretty quickly.” However, Sherwood acknowledges that the plan may have been hatched over the six-month period in which Iger and Sweeney had been discussing her exit before making it public.
Sherwood could be working with ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee, who had been negotiating a new contract, something Sherwood welcomes. “I’ve worked with Paul for the past few years, and I know he is an incredibly bright and talented guy,” Sherwood said. “He’s had share of hits and is primed for more, and I’m really excited about this development cycle.”
As for his own replacement atop ABC News, “we follow the same blueprint and have a robust succession process,” Sherwood said, noting that “we have a deep bench at ABC News.” He called fining a successor “a top priority.”
“Honored” by the new job, Sherwood said he plans to approach it as a journalist in the next 12 months when he will be learning the ropes as a co-president (and understudy) to Disney/ABC Television Group alongside Sweeney. “I have a great deal of curiosity, and, as a journalist, I’ll be asking a lot of questions, I’ll be digging deep and learning a lot.” He has ideas he wants to bring to the job overseeing a portfolio of networks but declined to share them. “I approach this with humility, and I think it would presumptuous for me to lay out particular ideas,” he said.
Ben Sherwood To Succeed Anne Sweeney As Disney/ABC Television Group President, ABC’s Paul Lee Closing In On New Contract
ABC News president Ben Sherwood cemented his status as Disney’s golden TV boy as he has been appointed a successor to Anne Sweeney. Sherwood will assume the title of co-chairman, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group on February 1, 2015, a day after Sweeney ends her 10-year run in the same post. ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee is expected to finalize a new multi-year contract, ensuring the network’s stability at the top heading into next month’s upfronts. Sherwood’s appointment comes after a short search, with the news wiz considered an early frontrunner as Disney again looked within ranks for the next top executive hire.
Sherwood will begin the transition as Co-President, Disney/ABC Television Group alongside Sweeney immediately, while also continuing to oversee ABC News until a successor is named. “Ben is one of those unique executives who combine rich creative experience with great business acumen,” Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said. “He’s also focused, strategic, and competitive, as evidenced by the success of GMA, the Yahoo deal that delivered ABC News online dominance, and his vision behind our new cable and digital joint venture, Fusion. These reasons, and many others, make Ben the ideal candidate to oversee the future of the Disney/ABC Television Group.”
While Sherwood’s career trajectory resembles that of Jeff Zucker, who also transitioned from the No. 1 morning program, Today, to running NBC (they both also went to Harvard), observers point out that Sherwood also has entertainment experience. He took a break from the news business and became a best-selling author, with his novel The Death And Life Of Charlie St. Cloud turned into a studio feature. Still, it was Sherwood’s accomplishments as head of the ABC News division that propelled him to the reins of Disney’s entire non-sports TV portfolio. Among them is leading Good Morning America to No. 1, brokering a successful online partnership with Yahoo to and launching Fusion, a joint venture news and lifestyle network with Univision. “Over the years, he has moved from success-to-success, and helped create a more vibrant, collaborative and powerful news division that embraces innovation and risk-taking,” Sweeney said. “Ben’s now set to bring those same attributes to bear for the larger group, and I could not be more thrilled. This announcement simply highlights the fact that our talent and succession planning process works.”
TCA: Paul Lee “Gradulist” In Pilot Strategy; Addresses Struggles With ‘Lucky 7′, ‘Wonderland’, ‘Killer Women’, ‘The Assets’
ABC‘s Paul Lee took a middle road when asked about his take on Fox’s plan to abandon pilot season to focus its development on series. “I am a gradualist,” Lee said during the network’s executive session at TCA. “We are gradually moving forward, (evolving) the model.” He pointed to projects like new drama Black Box, which the network picked up straight to series and took months to cast in the vein of what Fox is looking to do, and he also agreed with the comments CBS’ Nina Tassler made in support of the traditional pilot season model as “the pressure and the deadlines have worked extremely well.” Lee shared how, while still in his native UK, he looked up to the American system and admired its ability to produce such large volume of content in such limited time frames. He singled out freshmen Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Goldbergs, indicating that they will very likely be renewed. Of the older shows, Once Upon A Time, Revenge and Nashville got Lee’s stamp of approval (along with shoo-ins Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Modern Family, The Middle and Castle.)
There were a lot of “What went wrong?” questions during the session, understandable given the rough sledding ABC has had with most of its new shows including Lucky 7, Once Upon A Time, Betrayal, Killer Women and The Assets. Wonderland was originally envisioned to serve as a bridge between the fall and spring portions of Once Upon A Time, and instead launched in the fall in the difficult Thursday 8 PM slot. In hindsight, “I should’ve done that,” Lee said about sticking with the original plan. “We knew the creative was great, and didn’t want to be defensive on Thursday, we wanted to be offensive.” Lee said a decision on the future of Wonderland will be made soon, alluding that, even if Wonderland is not renewed, characters from it could migrate to Once. Lee called The Assets, which hailed from ABC News, “a great experiment,” a great model developed by the news division to develop entertainment programming with ties to real events. “We are going to continue with that experiment even though the show didn’t work.” On Lucky 7, whose original worked well in the UK, British-born Lee agreed with a critic that “English people enjoy other people’s misery,” but suggested that the drama, which aired at 10 PM, “would’ve done better at 8 PM.” “It was an excellent piece of television… but it didn’t resonate,” he said.
ABC needs to get two things right this fall: 1) Launch Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.; 2) Relaunch Dancing With The Stars. The first one looks to be a slam dunk, given the anticipatory gushing over the series, and creator Joss Whedon, going on in the press and on fan sites. The second, however, is far from a sure thing — especially after the last fall’s disastrous all-star edition.
The veteran dance competition lives or dies based on its celebrity casting, and the producers botched it pretty thoroughly in both editions last season. Ratings plunged to an all-time low as the show competed against NBC’s The Voice for the first time in the fall with the all-star edition. Turned out, ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee acknowledged recently, viewers don’t want to see celebrities who can dance well competing — they want to see celebrities who can’t dance well, learning their right foot from their left. This had escaped the network and producers until it was too late. Any hope of real recovering in the spring edition fell flat with that edition’s limp cast. Andy Dick — really? Not surprisingly, the reality series only climbed back up to its second-worst numbers ever, though, yes, up is up.
Bad news for ABC — better news maybe for Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey: Sandra Oh has announced she’s leaving Grey’s Anatomy at the end of the ABC drama’s upcoming 10th season. “It’s been a great privilege to play the character of Cristina Yang on GA and I am both sad and excited to see where this, her final season will take her,” Oh said in this afternoon’s statement, calling it an emotional and “deeply creative decision” to leave.
Pompeo and Dempsey’s contracts also are up at the end of the coming season, and ABC presumably won’t want any more of the series majors to exit. That’s always a good bargaining position. Dempsey made news the recent Summer TCA Press Tour, when he told a ballroom full of press — while promoting a car-racing show for Velocity network called Patrick Dempsey: Racing Le Mans – that his passion in life is car racing, and acting is what he does to support that habit. Some mention may have been made of the redundancy of Grey’s storylines. Eyebrows around the room shot up. And a few days later, at the Press Tour, the reporters asked ABC programming chief Paul Lee if Dempsey was leaving and/or Grey’s was toast after this season. Lee responded, emphatically — as did ABC today in the wake of Oh’s announcement — that ABC intended to have the steamy doc drama on the primetime lineup “for many years.” At that time, Lee said he would not discuss possible cast changes — the press assumed he was talking about Dempsey — because he didn’t want to be yelled at by show creator Shonda Rhimes.
ABC programming chief Paul Lee is jumping on the shark bandwagon, announcing this morning his network has scheduled Shark Tank Week for the week of Sept. 8. ABC will not plow through five original episodes of the Mark Burnett-produced reality competition franchise, Lee told TV critics, who’d given the show their TCA Award for best reality series the previous night. Instead Shark Tank Week is merely a re-packaging of five fan-fave repeats. One of the show’s sharks, Mark Cuban, already has been signed to guest on Discovery Channel’s Shark After Dark late night show as part of its Shark Week. Lee declined – twice – to discuss the scheduling of Shark Tank Week to coincide with NBC’s live Ryan Seacrest-hosted game show Million Second Quiz, during Lee’s Q&A this morning at TCA Summer TV Press Tour 2013.
Lee also declined to take a whack at Netflix for not releasing any viewing stats on House of Cards – a leitmotif of this summer’s press tour. Lee went with “competition is good.” Critics asked Lee loads of micro-questions about his network’s plans – unveiled in May at the upfronts – to air “a selected group” of dramas in two uninterrupted runs, one in the fall and one in the spring, bridged by limited series. But ABC’s new Once Upon A Time spinoff, Once Upon a Time: Wonderland — originally announced as a bridge show between the Once Up on a Time’s fall and spring seasons, has instead been scheduled in the fall on Thursday nights because “We just fell in love with it,” and “it’s a rabbit hole I wanted to go down for the full season.”
Plus, he noted, “We were looking to build a real block on Thursday of Empowered Women [Drinking Game!] on Thursday nights. This is Alice like you have never seen before. She’s a truly kick-ass Alice,” he said. And by ‘empowered, kick-ass Alice,’ he means an Alice who’s saved from “a doomed fate” by the White Rabbit and a handsome genie with whom she’s in love, who Lewis Carroll forgot to mention in his original story. Female Empowerment Thursday on ABC includes Alice in peril, Grey’s Anatomy, and Scandal.
Barry Jossen, exec vp at ABC Studios, the guy who ran day-to-day operations at ABCS, is “returning to his career as an award-winning producer with a production deal with ABC Studios,” ABC said today. That wasn’t ABC’s headline: The headline was that ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee is promoting Channing Dungey, Samie Falvey and Patrick Moran, each to EVP. Moran, who had been SVP Drama Development, now will run ABC Studios, with all creative and production operations will report to him. He’s taking Jossen’s place. Jossen had this to say: “During the course of the past year, I have given a lot of thought about what I want to do next due to television’s changing landscape. For me, it seemed best to get out of the day-to-day operational work of overseeing ABC Studios. I plan to return to producing and am considering a number of other opportunities that have come my way. I love my colleagues at ABC Studios and have been quietly preparing them for success as they transition into their new positions.” Dungey, who was SVP Drama Development, adds movies and miniseries to her purview. Falvey, formerly SVP Comedy Development, adds international scripted development to her comedy responsibilities. Read ABC’s statement after the jump:
ABC is changing things up in scheduling some of its serialized dramas. Taking a page from the cable model, the network will air what ABC president Paul Lee called “a selected group” of dramas in two uninterrupted runs, one in the fall and one in the spring, bridged by limited series. The series that will follow the new scheduling pattern include Once Upon A Time, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and likely Revenge, with others TBD. So far, the network only has set up a bridge series for Once, new adventure reality series The Quest. Lee said such bridge series won’t necessarily be all unscripted. Two cycles of 12 episodes would bring the total orders for the shows to 24, which is hard on a complex, serialized drama, but Lee indicated that number has not been set in stone. He said that the network is looking to further shake up the traditional broadcast scheduling model with “quality launches” throughout the season. Lee also said that new fall drama Betrayal is designed as a limited series, airing 12-13 episodes a season. The same applies to midseason drama Resurrection, which will replace it in the Sunday 10 PM slot in midseason.
Related: ABC 2013-14 Schedule
ABC‘s successful fairytale drama Once Upon A Time is all about the juxtaposition of good and bad and so were the opening remarks of the network’s topper Paul Lee at TCA today. “We have a lot to shout about and a lot to do,” Lee started off with. On the bright side, Lee touted ABC’s success with sophomore shows, including Scandal, which Lee said “is rocking and rolling,” and Once Upon A Time, as well as making “a great first step with family comedies on Friday.”
On the disappointment side: the soft ratings for the all-star edition of Dancing With The Stars (“We found out people like to see bad dancing as much as they like to see good dancing,” Lee said), and freshman drama Nashville‘s inability to connect with wider audiences off the bat despite very strong 18-34 ratings. Add to that the disappointing ratings performance of ABC’s other freshman dramas, Last Resort and 666 Park Ave, both of which have been cancelled. “I was disappointed that there have been no big breakout hits on any networks this fall, not just ABC,” Lee said, discounting NBC’s drama Revolution and the CW’s hot rookie Arrow.
At ABC’s executive session this morning ABC chief Paul Lee fielded questions about the state of the cast salary renegotiations on Modern Family, which have been difficult and resulted in a lawsuit and a table read rescheduling this week. “I expect the season to start on time,” Lee said. “We are in the middle of negotiations, and we’re hopeful and optimistic we will be able to resolve it”. While negotiations are led by Modern Family producer 20th Century Fox TV, “we are with 20th in this, we are full partners”, Lee said. I hear Lee and ABC’s head of business affairs Jana Winograde have been very involved in the process. The network will take over production cost for the show in a couple of years.
Lee also was asked about the top BBC job that he was reportedly offered but didn’t pursue. “I’m living the dream why would I”, Lee said. “I have one of the best jobs in television, I love this job. I’ve been in the U.S. for 15 years, and my sons are American, my family are Americans. I love ABC, it’s a brand I’m loyal to”‘.
Despite the fact that ABC’s schedule only features two multicamera comedies next season, Last Man Standing and Malibu Country, both on Friday, Lee reaffirmed the network’s commitment to the multicamera genre and confirmed that ABC will be “re-piloting” its multi-camera pilot from this past season, Kings Of Van Nuys, which is based on one of Lee’s favorite British series, Only Fools And Horses. The pilot script has now been reworked, and deals are being made with the entire original cast, led by John Leguizamo, to return.
“Storytelling itself has changed because our viewers have changed,” ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee said this morning at his opening presentation for the Banff World Media Festival in Canada. ”Smart is the new mainstream….If the message of 20 years ago was famously never over-estimate the intelligence of the public, I think the message of today should be never under-estimate the intelligence of the public.” ABC has responded by promoting shows such as Once Upon A Time, Revenge and Suburgatory. They worked while “the not-so-smart shows that I did? Well, I needn’t mention Charlie’s Angels anymore….I like to call my brand ‘smart with heart’.” He says that while television has long offered smart shows, in the past “they were the exception, now they’re the rule.” With Once Upon A Time, he says the producers effectively straddle the demands of high and low culture. It’s also helped by green-screen technology that enables producers to use computers to generate a cinematic look without the need for extravagant sets and location shots. ABC initially ran into trouble when it promoted the show as a procedural. But when it began to sell it like a movie, “awareness shot through the roof.” ABC took a chance to build interest by putting the show online ahead of the TV premiere. “We found that presampling the whole show online can actually create enough buzz, enough conversation, enough excitement to drive higher, not lower linear numbers at launch.”
On the heels of beating Jay Leno for the first time in-season last week and marking his 10th anniversary in late-night, Jimmy Kimmel returned to headline ABC’s upfront presentation today older if not wiser. Kimmel was introduced by a video featuring celebrities congratulating him on his anniversary, including Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, stars of ABC series and the Kardashian sisters. Kimmel started off by thanking the Kardashians for taking time “from their busy schedule of having sex with the Minnesota Timberwolves.”
Kimmel skewered ABC entertainment president Paul Lee for putting panned cross-dressing comedy Work It on the air last season. “Remember last year that show Work It? You know we were kidding, right? The fact that Paul Lee greenlit that should tell you everything you need to know about what Brits think about us.”
On Lee, who was reportedly approached for the top job at the BBC. “He decided to stay. In the end, ABC has something that BBC would never have: dental.”
On ABC shows: “Dancing With The Stars is still going strong-ish. Last night I was watching the show, fell asleep fell off the couch and hit my head on the floor. And for the first time this season, I actually saw stars.” On ABC’s upcoming all-stars edition of Dancing: “Dancing With The Stars All Stars — how many times can we lie to you in a single title.” Also, “The upcoming Duets is unlike any other singing competition show… assuming you haven’t seen any other singing competition show.”
Some of Kimmel’s shots at other networks:
The upcoming cycle of Dancing With The Stars will be an all-star edition, ABC president Paul Lee announced during the network’s press call this morning. “We’re bringing fan favorites from the past 14 seasons,” Lee …
We are at the tail end of a TV selling season that saw more bidding wars and production and put pilot commitments than I can remember, and that isn’t lost on the broadcast entertainment presidents. Survivor‘s Jeff Probst opened the discussion at the annual Hollywood Radio & Television Society network chiefs luncheon today by sharing that during his lunch with the executives before they took the stage, everyone was complaining about how crazy and out of whack this pitch season has been. Fox’s Kevin Reilly, who spoke his mind more than anyone else on the panel, quickly jumped in. “(NBC) got cash, (ABC) got competitive against that cash, and we took the bait,” is how Reilly summed up this year’s marketplace. “We all think we were played a little bit. Agents are doing very well this year as a result.” Reilly’s counterparts mostly agreed, though their responses were more measured. “It’s been very, very frantic this year,” CBS’ Nina Tassler said. She blamed media coverage for the increased intensity of the pitch season. “Every single thing that happens is now being reported, from a pitch to speculation on the terms of a deal, and that does absolutely impact the business.” Added NBC’s Jennifer Salke: “I get the email about a media inquiry while the producer is still in the parking lot. That adds to the frenzy.” But it wasn’t all bad this buying season, ABC’s Paul Lee said. “There was also a rush of new energy, with a lot of new people and new ideas; there was lot of ambition in the projects coming in,” he said.
At the end of ABC’s TCA executive panel, president Paul Lee admitted that he had asked a network PR executive beforehand, “Shall I go out in a dress?” That probably would’ve been appropriate given that ABC’s new cross-dressing comedy Work It, which has not even been scheduled yet, emerged as the main attraction at the Q&A session even somewhat overshadowing the official announcement of Desperate Housewives coming to an end. The first mention of the Bosom Buddies-esque multi-camera comedy starring Ben Koldyke and Amaury Nolasco as out-of-work car salesmen who dress as women to get jobs as pharmaceutical reps came when Lee was asked to discuss the network’s new crop of comedies. When he got to Work It, the British-born Lee said, “I’m a Brit, it is in my contract that I have to do one cross-dressing show a year; I was brought up on Monty Python. What can I do?” Later on he was asked about a trend of many new shows featuring central characters who are orphans that harkens back to Victorian times and Charles Dickens. Admitting that he didn’t notice an orphan pattern in picking up series, Lee noted, “We don’t sit there and think, ‘Work It! That goes all the way back to Shakespeare!’ ”
EXCLUSIVE: ABC Will End ‘Desperate Housewives’ In May 2012 After 8th Season
This morning ABC officially announced what Deadline readers already knew: that this coming season will be the last for veteran Desperate Housewives, which, along with Lost, turned ABC’s fortunes around in the fall of 2004. “It is an iconic show; we are so proud of it,” ABC entertainment president Paul Lee said. “I just wanted to make sure that the show that put the network on the map had its victory lap and had a chance to build a great final arc.” Lee was then joined by Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry. “I think the only thing harder than creating a hit show is to know when to end it,” he said. “It’s something that has weighed on my mind for some time. I’m well aware of people who have overstayed their welcome, and I just didn’t want that to happen to us. I wanted to go out while the network still thought it was a viable series and while it still did well in the ratings; I wanted to go out in the classiest way possible.”
According to the network’s press release, the upcoming “Season Eight of Desperate Housewives will roll out in a way that is accessible even to viewers who may have lapsed in their viewing, and be all the richer and more rewarding to the series’ loyal fans.” Cherry elaborated that the “mystery of what’s going on in the final season harkens back to the first season,” to “the roots of the Mary Alice mystery,” which kicked off the series seven years ago. “It feels right that that would be the storyline that would take us out.” As a result, I hear that Brenda Strong, who narrates the series as Mary Alice but has only made a handful of appearances on the show, may get more screen time this season. Asked whether Nicollette Sheridan’s character Edie Britt will make a return, Cherry, who is being sued by the actress over her termination from the show, made a pause before responding, “I don’t know how I would do that, but I have an idea for the last episode where I want to pay homage to everyone who has been on the show.”