TCA: New ABC Chief Paul Lee Makes Debut

For a guy who confessed that as a Brit he is way too self-conscious to dance, new ABC Family Entertainment Group president Paul Lee did a pretty good job tap dancing around the controversial issues surrounding the departure of his predecessor Stephen McPherson. Facing the press and TV critics 36 hours after being officially appointed to the job, Lee looked confident, and the sleeves of his plaid shirt were symbolically rolled up. There will be no changes to ABC’s fall launch plans, Lee said. “We’re locked and loaded. If you  make last-minute changes, you can make more damages than good. Nor is he planning to emulate ABC Family’s focus on “millennials” by making ABC skew younger. “This is a core 18-to-49 channel,” he emphasized. Mostly Lee stuck to his talking pointsy, and, in his answers played up his status as an outsider. He also kept reverting to his previous experiences running BBC America and ABC Family and working as showrunner in the UK — rather than discussing his plans for ABC.

“There are a lot more people here than when we were trying to launch Wildfire on ABC Family,” Lee quipped as he was taking his seat on stage. He opened with a thank-you to the critics for their support through the years (smooth move). And a disclaimer. “I’m super unprepared, being in this job for 36 hours, so I apologize in advance if I don’t have all the answers.” He hardly had any. Lee’s comment on his boss, Anne Sweeney: “I love working for Anne.” He ignored questions about reports that the people he’s inheriting at ABC are nervous about their future. “I talked to them. Said hi.” He gave props to one of them, Barry Jossen, who oversees day-to-day operations at ABC Studios, for shepherding Kyle XY. Lee said the show “put ABC Family on the map.”

We found out that Lee’s wife was crucial in helping him make the decision to take the ABC job — but wasn’t happy when that led to them cutting short their vacation so he could attend TCA. But there was not a lot of deliberation, Lee noted. “I’m clearly very excited with this opportunity. This is one of the premier iconic American storytelling brands.” He singled out Modern Family as his favorite show “that should win the Emmy for best comedy,” and also listed Grey’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives and Dancing with the Stars. “There is an amzingly talented group of showrunners and on-air talent here, and I do think we have a very strong lineup coming up,” Lee said after the TCA session, remarking also that the trials and tribulations on Fox’s American Idol could create opportunity for other networks.

Asked how, as a Brit and Oxford graduate, he gets into the minds of Middle America, Lee said: “I’ve just spent years as a Brit trying to channel not just my inner American but also my inner female teen.”

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