What a difference a year makes. Last January, ABC boss Paul Lee faced TV critics after all of the network’s new fall series had either been cancelled or were on life support. This time, ABC is coming off a strong fall, boasting a string of successes including top-rated new drama in How To Get Away With Murder, top new comedy Black-ish, rising sophomore The Goldbergs, promising midseason comedy Galavant, and a No. 1 ratings position on three nights, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Diversity was a focal point of the panel, with Lee reiterating again the network’s commitment to have shows that reflect the changing demographics and ethnographics of America. ABC’s bet on diverse new shows has largely paid off, with freshmen Murder, Black-ish and Cristela given full-season orders, and there is more of that on ABC’s midseason slate, John Ridley’s racial relations drama American Crime and Asian family comedy Fresh Off The Boat.
American Crime is conceived as a limited/anthology series, as is upcoming crime mystery drama Secrets & Lies. “We love having more limited series on the network, that allows for a mixed economy and allows us to bring a different kind of storytelling and a different talent to it.” That said, the network has a mechanism in place, with American Crime possibly keeping core cast for a second cycle and Secrets & Lies possibly doing a second season with Juliette Lewis and her cop character. Both shows would tackle new cases.
Lee was asked to address Eddie Huang’s recent comments that Fresh Off The Boat, which was based on his memoir, does not reflect his voice. “We love Eddie,” Lee said. “He’s a firebrand… But the show is a comedy, not a documentary of his book.”
On Fresh Off The Boat, which was assigned the super-tough Tuesday 8 PM slot after previews at 8:30 PM and 9:30 PM on Wednesday, it will not face the same threshold as the network’s Wednesday comedies when ruling on a second-season pickup, Lee said, sounding confident the family comedy “will find an audience.”
A returning ABC series that has been finding it harder and harder to hold an audience, Revenge, is not in immediate danger of cancellation. Lee noted a ratings uptick in the episodes leading to the fall finale and that Revenge is more than a show, “it’s a critical brand for us.” While short of saying that Revenge would be coming back, Lee noted that “we have some great storylines coming up” and that “there is a way to reinvent the show.” After the session he noted that Revenge was originally picked as a limited series but at the time that was not a model the network was pursuing.
Lee was more committal on the future of veteran procedural Castle, which he said would be coming back.
While other networks are often evasive when it comes to ownership of their programming, Lee has been open about ABC’s drive to launch successful franchises that it owns. “We wanted to build up the studio,” he said, noting how many of the key ABC series come from the studio, including virtually all dramas.
After a few misfires in the singing competition genre, most recently Rising Star, ABC will stay away from singing reality series for the foreseeable future, Lee said.
Lee had a witty response to Sony hack leaks that revealed some intense re-negotiations with Shark Tank star Mark Cuban. “We love our sharks,” Lee said. “It’s brilliant when you have a show, and the idea is that these are the best negotiators in the world, and then you have to negotiate with them. But I’m thrilled that my head negotiator, Jana Winograde, is as good as the great sharks out there. I’m optimistic, we will be in good shape.” Deals with the show’s cast, including Cuban, have been getting close over the past weeks.
Also today, ABC announced that the spring cycle of Dancing With The Stars will debut on March 16. Still no premiere date for horror drama The Whispers, which will launch in late spring, using the NBA Finals as a launch platform, transitioning into summer.
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