As part of the TCA Press Tour presentation for ABC, President of ABC Entertainment Paul Lee took some time to talk about the network’s current and upcoming line-up. During this interview, he spoke about the network’s philosophy that TV should be made for bigger screens and how some of their new dramas (i.e. Red Widow and Zero Hour) fit that bill, what could happen with both Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23, why he feels 666 Park Avenue and Last Resort didn’t perform as well as expected, how they approach the handling of violence on the network, how they might position the Marvel series S.H.I.E.L.D. from Joss Whedon to attract both male and female viewers, if that moves ahead from the pilot stage (how could it not, right?!), and that they were able to give Shawn Ryan the opportunity to wrap up the story for Last Resort, once they made the decision to cancel the freshman thriller. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: How is your philosophy that TV should be made for the bigger screens that people are watching on at home reflected in your new dramas, Red Widow and Zero Hour, which have a more cinematic feel?
PAUL LEE: There are two sides to that. There is no question that broadcast can sometimes bring you a big sense of ambition, in a way that cable can’t do. We do that every night with Once Upon a Time, on Sunday night at 8 o’clock, and people love that ambition. And broadcast has to continue to do big events. That sense of ambition is something that broadcast does well and needs to continue to do, and the technology is such that we can bring you movies at a price that we can afford and sell them around the world as movies, and they will stand out in each of the markets as higher quality. At the same time, we’re in the business of being in people’s homes every week, and if you don’t fall in love with those characters and we don’t nail the core relationships at the heart of it, that’s nothing to do with ambition. That has to do with writing and acting and emotion. I speak for ABC. I don’t speak for the other networks. But, if we don’t nail the emotion, then we don’t nail the shows, so it’s not just the ambition. There are plenty of shows that we’re proud of, that really nail the ambition. We are doing that in the development cycle, too.
Where are you at with Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23?
LEE: We love those two shows. They are incredibly distinctive. They are water cooler shows. They’re incredibly well-written. We didn’t have much place to put them because we can’t put them at 8:00, so if you look at the nights of the week, Tuesday was really the only place to put them. We think Tuesdays have more of a chance to grow. We love Happy Endings. We know it has to stand on its own. It did a great job with Modern Family, but every show has to stand on its own, and Happy Endings is ready to do that. We’re going to back it, as we go through the season.
If ratings stay at their current levels, how likely is a renewal?
LEE: We haven’t made any of those decisions yet, but these are shows that we love.
LEE: We compete against all entertainment on all platforms. We don’t compete against the other broadcast networks. We compete against ourselves. You go out in the slot behind Grey’s Anatomy or Modern Family or Once Upon a Time, and you’re still competing with those shows, let alone the other DVRs on the other networks. That’s why it’s so sweet to see a show like Scandal at 10 o’clock, where the DVRs are at the highest level. We are in a competitive environment against all the other networks, and I think we bring a sense of scale and ambition that others don’t. We have a brand position on ABC that gives us a competitive advantage. But, I don’t think we should kid ourselves that we’re not also competing against video games, social networks, movies and all sorts of other competitors that are out there. As far as those two shows are concerned, we felt that Nashville was the one that made the real connection to the audience. That’s not to say that I wasn’t immensely proud of those two shows. I think Shawn [Ryan] did a fabulous job on Last Resort. It was a male show. We had a very passionate male audience. We did not connect with the relationships to the women. And 666 Park Avenue was a surprise to us because it tracked so well, early on, with the awareness and on the intent to view. But, it wasn’t a surprise to us that Nashville was the one that really clicked, particularly with our younger audience.
How much will recent violent events be taken into account or affect your decisions, during pilot season?
LEE: Well, our job is always to get a sense of what the culture is feeling. The reality is that these were awful events. It was heartbreaking, and your heart just went out to everybody. We certainly welcome the conversation, as to how we, as a culture, can make sure that we don’t let these events happen again. On broadcast, we have pretty stringent standards. I think ABC has even more stringent standards than our competitors. We are tremendously sensitive to this issue. We think about it and we talk about it, all the time. We are storytellers. We have to tell stories that are vibrant and passionate, but we want to make sure that the stories that we tell are done with integrity, that there’s no gratuitous action that goes on there, that it’s driven through the stories and the characters, and that we have a moral compass in what we do. We’ve always been sensitive to that, but we are particularly sensitive now, and it’s something that we are going to continue to look at. It’s important.
LEE: Yeah. I talk about the emotion of the network, and that it’s smart with heart. There is something which I talk less about, which is that we have more co-viewed shows than any other network. We have something like eight of the top 20 co-viewed shows on television. And Marvel has the ability to bring the whole family around it. The truth about Joss [Whedon] is that he has some great relationships in it. There are a lot of really funny male/female relationships, with some very flirtatious ones, that go through it. But, it’s also Joss and it’s Marvel, and there’s a lot of action to it. We haven’t seen the pilot yet. We fast-tracked that before the others, so we are going to see it a lot earlier than the others, and we are very hopeful that that’s going to move forward to series. We will build our marketing campaign early for it. We see that as a possibility of a show that we can bring both men and women and kids to. And, by the way, the script is great. I don’t want to jinx it because that may not mean a good pilot or a good series, but we are very excited about it. Joss is wonderful to work with.
What did you learn from the experience of what happened with Last Resort that you might be able to apply to S.H.I.E.L.D. or other shows that don’t seem as quintessentially ABC?
LEE: I may be proven wrong about this, but if we do shows that guys like that women don’t want to come to, then that doesn’t work for us. If we do shows that women like and men love, like Shark Tank and Once Upon a Time, then we really have a crack at doing that. So, if we ever do a show that puts a “Do Not Enter” sign up to women, that really doesn’t work for us. It needs to be relatable. You need to be able to imagine yourself in that show and imagine yourself as those protagonists. And we certainly know that we have to deliver to women as well as men, when we do a show.
When you canceled Last Resort, did you give Shawn Ryan enough time to make it feel like an actual ending to the story? Do you feel a sense of obligation with that type of serialized thriller?
LEE: Sometimes it’s inevitable, but in this particular case we did it early enough that we all kept on investing and he has got a great ending to Last Resort, as it goes out. We only did eight episodes of Red Widow, like we did with Scandal, and we’re hopeful that that can have a very long life, like Scandal did. The audience will be the judge, but we did a great job of creating an ending to it. It’s not always possible because of the realities of the business. We always think about it and try to do it in a way that gives people time to do just that. It’s a very good question.