HRTS Network Chiefs Lunch: A Star Is Born

ABC’s new chief Paul Lee charmed a room full of industry types at the Hollywood Radio and TV Society’s network chiefs luncheon today, which was otherwise pretty uneventful. Three months into the job, he looked confident and relaxed, stretching his legs for most of the time, interjecting with witty zingers and cracking jokes throughout the panel discussion moderated by HRTS and Lionsgate TV president Kevin Beggs. “We used to strike when they moved the tea break at the BBC,” Brit Lee quipped when the subject of a potential new WGA strike came up. In terms of ABC programming, Lee didn’t deny the rumor that he might be looking to revive TGIF on ABC. (He recently did a trial run with a younger-skewing family comedy at ABC Family, Melissa & Joey). “I certainly think that Friday night is a huge opportunity,” Lee said. He also alluded that ABC may test some of its marketing campaigns on Facebook before forking out millions to roll them out.

Also pretty entertaining was Fox’s Kevin Reilly, who was asked about the challenges of doing a series for broadcast vs. cable where FCC regulations don’t apply. “It is frustrating sometimes,” he said. “On cable, we would’ve been able to have the guys on Lone Star take off their clothes, the show would’ve pulled 1.3 million viewers and we would’ve declared it a hit because that’s what Mad Men draws. We would’ve collected a few trophies too, and no one would’ve questioned it.” He refused to weigh in on Fox’s ongoing nasty carriage dispute with Cablevision beyond rehashing Fox’s talking points from its statements over the past week demanding that Cablevision share its profits from subscriber fees with the network. The other network presidents chimed in to tout the dual revenue stream as key to keeping the broadcast model robust. The best line came from Reilly who admitted he stole it from CBS’ Nina Tassler: “Why USA Network gets compensated for running House reruns when Fox is is not compensated for running House originals.” NBC’s Angela Bromstad also didn’t engage when asked about the pending merger between NBC and Comcast, keeping it generic with “it’s more in the forefront of our minds” answer.

Tassler warned that no one would win from another writers strike, with the effect of the 2007-08 still lingering. “We’re just beginning to feel the blood flowing in our veins again.” she said. Speaking in favor of branding networks in spite arguments that, with DVR and online viewing, people may be watching shows and not networks anymore, CW’s Dawn Ostroff pointed out that kids learn network branding early on from watching Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, so the broadcast networks have to just maintain that connection. Answering the final question about where they think the TV industry will be in five years, Reilly made another pitch for year-round programming. “You always say that,” Tassler countered. “Someday maybe these people would listen,” was Reilly’s response, which closed the discussion. It was the first HRTS network luncheon since 2007, and here is a nice factoid about it: I can’t remember ever having more women then men on the panel until today when Tassler, Ostroff and Bromstad outnumbered Lee and Reilly.

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