Paul Lee (President of ABC Entertainment Group) Talks THE RIVER, ONCE UPON A TIME, the Future of PAN AM and COUGAR TOWN, and More

     January 11, 2012


As part of the network’s TCA Press Tour presentation, President of ABC Entertainment Group, Paul Lee, took some time to talk about where things stand with some of their popular and long-running series, how some of their freshman series were received, and their hopes for some of their upcoming programs.

Lee said that the horror thriller The River (premiering on February 7th) is set for only eight episodes, but there is the plan to have it be a long-running series. He is also thrilled with the performance of Once Upon A Time, is optimistic about the future of Pan Am, and said that while they made a good attempt, he doesn’t think they quite breathed life into the Charlie’s Angels franchise through the recent series. And, while he has high hopes for how Cougar Town will play when it returns, Lee is still unsure of when exactly that return will be. Check out what he had to say about all the series after the jump:

paul-lee-imageQuestion: Why is the second half of the season the best launching point for more difficult or better shows?

PAUL LEE: Well, first of all, I really don’t want to take away from Revenge and Once Upon a Time, or Last Man Standing and Suburgatory. I love those shows. I think they did great. But, you’re in an incredibly competitive environment in the Fall. You’ve got millions of dollars of investment launching, maybe within a week. You’d better make sure that those shows stand out from the crowd. And, if you’ve got a perfectly formed show that you really want to have its place in the sun, then you have a better chance either staggering it from the Fall, like we did with Once Upon a Time and Last Man Standing, or giving yourself a chance during the year. My job isn’t to launch a week’s television. My job is to bring great television and spend the year launching it.

Looking at The River, the pilot seems to set up a very finite story. Was there ever any consideration about making The River a mini-series instead of an ongoing show?

LEE: No. Early on, when we were about to pick it up, I had a brief conversation with Steven Spielberg who said, “We would love to have eight episodes because that’s just about the amount that we can really figure out the rhythms of this show with.” Because we just did eight episodes, it’s so different from anything else you’ve seen. They really had the time to figure it out. If the question or the implication is, “Do we think there’s life in this, beyond that eight episodes?,” if it gets rejected by the audience, no. If it gets accepted by the audience and they love it, I think there’s a lot of life in it, beyond that. The finale is great and incredibly satisfying. On the other hand, it does leave it open. It has a certain amount of closure, but we didn’t build it that way. We built it for a long-running series.

How do you feel about the performance of Once Upon A Time?

LEE: We knew it was an amazing piece of storytelling. What we didn’t know yet was that Adam [Horowitz] and Eddie [Kitsis] would do such an amazing job of sustaining it and keeping stories going beyond there. It was wonderful to find that fairytales actually did resonate. You’re always so disappointed if things don’t work, and so surprised that they do. In this particular case, I think it was great to see that incredibly well-made television works, and it’s really fun to be doing these jobs at a time when you can take risks, and when shows that you’re passionate about, that are different and take risks work. If we were in a world where only the least objectionable television worked, my job wouldn’t be nearly as fun. You have to balance it out, but it makes my job more fun. It opens us up to taking risks and to really trying to do the best television that we can, with no limits. That’s a great thing for us.

Neither Pan Am or Charlie’s Angels were big hits. What do you think happened with those shows?

LEE: Pan Am is a period drama, and when it started, it really brought an audience to it. There’s still such a feeling of goodwill towards that show. People really wanted to be in that place and time. And, it’s a great cast. People loved it. At the moment, we’re working just to make sure that the power of the emotional stories really drives through, and I think we can do that. We can start bringing an audience back. I think that’s the heart of what defines a great show for us.  We have new and original shows that run right through the end of February, and then it will be in contention, as we go forward. With Charlie’s Angels, I don’t quite think we breathed life into that franchise, but I think it was a really strong attempt.

What can you say about the future of Grey’s Anatomy?

LEE: We don’t have any comments about those contracts. Grey’s came roaring back. It’s creatively still at the top of its form. (Show creator) Shonda [Rhimes] has a vision like nobody else. She knows what she’s doing, and she knows where she’s going. We’ve heard her vision, not just for the end of this season, but for beyond, and it’s really, really strong. I’m feeling very good about the show.

cougar-town-imageWhat is the status of Cougar Town?

LEE: The reality is that Cougar Town is having one of their best seasons. When we launch it, it will bring a big strong message that we love the show. We haven’t yet landed where it’s going to go, but it’s tentatively in there for March, for a very good reason. We’re going to give it a really good launchpad. I love Bill [Lawrence]. So, I think Cougar Town is great. It didn’t have a place, earlier on, but when it comes, we hope it will do extremely well. We don’t know what’s going to work with the new shows, but it would be great to have a group of young, irreverent comedies together. That’s a little bit of a dream for the future, but I’d love to have Cougar Town as a part of that.

What does Body of Proof have to do to come back again?

LEE: Well, I am a huge fan of Dana Delany. I love her. As we go into the back half of the season, they’re going to have more fun with her and really push some of the more edgy elements that she brought in, in the early stages of it. It is a show that we would love to work, long-term. Our affiliates love it. I’m hoping that it works well and we can bring it back.