Execs earn audience trust yet take risks

With “10 Things I Hate About You,” “Greek,” “Lincoln Heights,” “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” and “Make It or Break It,” Paul Lee and Kate Juergens have managed to keep ABC Family teen-friendly while confronting major issues.

“Teen pregnancy, drinking, drugs — we deal with issues that are very real, but we always do so responsibly and optimistically,” says Lee, the cabler’s president. “At the end, these families will always come together to resolve those problems, even if their lives are spinning out of conĀ­trol.”

Thanks to this programming philosophy, ABC Family has become the No. 1 basic cable network in primetime among female viewers 12-17 and 12-34. In the third quarter of 2009, it advanced to No. 9 in overall audience.

Juergens, the exec VP of programming and development who came to work with Lee two months after his April 2004 hiring, notes that with the rise in viewer confidence in ABC Family, the network has been able to make bolder choices.

According to Juergens, “We are able to take on things that might seem a little riskier than we could do a few years ago when we were just getting started.”

In turn, ABC Family has ever greater trust that its viewers will give them a fair shake.

“The thing we know about this generation, they really have an amazing antenna for what is real and what is fake,” Lee says. “And if it’s not real, they literally will be telling us immediately.”

Impact: Successful launches of “Make It or Break It” and “10 Things I Hate About You,” contributing to a fifth straight year of network ratings growth.

Next: Three pilots, including a Joey Lawrence/Melissa Joan Hart starrer, are competing for what’s expected to be two series slots on the 2010 slate.

Causes: “Greek” Pledge Yourself to Do Something; national PSA for Boys & Girls Clubs of America with members of “Lincoln Heights” cast.

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