“Is this a therapy session?,” ABC president Paul Lee asked jokingly after another long-winded question about the network’s new series. That about sums up an uneventful executive session, which also could double as a drinking game over the great number of times the words “diversity” and “specificity” were repeated. There was no mention of ABC’s ratings woes but the diversity of the network’s new slate — which includes comedies about a black family (Black-ish), Asian family (Fresh Off The Boat) and Latino family (Cristela), as well as dramas American Crime, created by John Ridley, and How To Get Away with Murder, exec produced by Shonda Rhimes and starring Viola Davis — was front and center. Asked what the tipping point was, Lee was quick to point out, “we’re not there yet,” in terms of level of diversity. “To be able to pull this off, you need not just stars on air… you need the storytellers and you need the executives to truly reflect America as it is,” he added, giving a shout-out to the network and sister studio’s diverse group of creative executives.
Lee indirectly referenced 21st Century Fox’s move to put both Fox and 20th Century Fox TV under the same leadership, Dana Walden and Gary Newman, as part of a growing trend. ABC and ABC Studios have operated that way for years, and Lee, who oversees both, praised the model. “We’ve used that combination of network and studio to develop a lot of great shows,” he said.
Asked about the perception that cable dramas are cooler than their broadcast counterparts in light of another Emmy shutout of broadcast dramas from the top category, Lee spoke in support of broadcast shows. “I’ll put American Crime or Scandal against any cable drama series,” he said. “Sometime limitations can provide you with better storytelling, and Shonda Rhimes is a beacon of that.”
There were a lot of questions about ABC’s decision to cancel softly rated freshman comedy series Trophy Wife, which was well-received by critics and was owned by ABC. Lee didn’t seem to be second-guessing the decision, stressing that he believes the network did everything it could to get the show discovered by viewers. That involved putting repeats (but not originals) in ABC’s signature Wednesday comedy block. “In my job, it’s hard to have shows that can’t find an audience,” Lee said.
On summer singing reality series Rising Star, “I’m a little disappointed with the numbers,” Lee said, but there will be no conclusions drawn until the show ends its run. Whatever happens, “I think that revolution that we did, giving viewers true live voting, I think you’ll see that idea rolling through reality series.”