The former ABC Family head made his first appearance Sunday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour as ABC Entertainment’s new topper, replacing Steve McPherson. Variety will have more later, but here are some highlights:
–Lee started out in savvy fashion by praising TCA itself. “I’ve been here for 12 years in the U.S., done more than 20 TCAs, (and) I don’t think the successes of ABC Family would have been what they were without the debate, the controversies and the buzz that comes out of this room.”
–His initial thought about ABC itself: “This is one of the premiere, iconic American storytelling brands. I grew up watching this network on far-off shores.”
–On the events of the past week: “I can’t really answer that. I was very honored to be offered the job, but I don’t want to talk about Steve.”
–On whether ABC Family programming could work on ABC itself: “I think first of all, there are different audiences. We went out of our way (at ABC Family) to really identify and target our millennial audience. (ABC) is a core 18-49 network. …I’m not saying that there aren’t things within the Venn diagram of those networks that intersect, but realistically there are two different networks.”
–On making decisions based on research vs. gut feeling: “If you don’t look at your research, then you’re not understanding your network. But I’m a former showrunner. … If a show doesn’t move you or hit you in the gut, it’s really difficult as an executive to know where that show’s going to go.
“When we tested the British ‘Office,’ it was the worst-tested show … and that was because it broke rules,” Lee added, noting also that his ABC Family series “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” was never tested. “On the other hand, ignore testing at your peril, because it will often tell you weaknesses that you are too self-deceptive to notice.”
–More on the above: “I have just spent my past six years trying not just to channel my inner American as a Brit, but my inner female teen, which actually we have a lot of fun doing. It really goes back to that question about gut vs. reseahc. You have to do a lot of research; you have to really understand your audience.
“On the other hand, gut is gut, and by that I mean a great show is a great show. … You just can’t underestimate when you sit back and realize 45 minutes have gone by (while watching a show) and you didn’t realize it.”
–On critical fave “Modern Family”: “I feel very, very lucky that I what I consider to be the best new comedy on television is on this network.
–On adding a second night of comedy to the schedule: “I’d love to be in position to add a second night, but honestly it’s far too early to tell.”
–On sticking with a struggling show: “I think there’s no question that this is a more difficult job than running ABC Family because you have more time in cable. … One of the things we used to love (was to) stick by a show.
“I had a show called ‘Middleman,’ which I loved. I adored that show, but it was the wrong show for the network. … It’s almost like horse whispering, your network talks to you.”
–On the future of serialized TV on ABC: “Each show has a different sort of business profile. Comedy could make you less money in the short term, may make you less money internationally, but may have much stronger back end (in cable and syndication).
Calling the performance of serialized shows internationally “spectacular,” Lee said that “certainly I wouldn’t say, ‘Move away from serialized,’ when so many of the brand shows on this network have been brilliantly serialized television which nobody can not watch.”
–On whether he’ll tinker with the schedule before the fall: “We’re locked and loaded here. We’re literally weeks away. I’ve learned over time, you make changes in an entertainment sense, and … you can make more damage than good. These are rockets, they have to be fueled, filled, loaded and launched.”
–On brand identity: “I’ve heard this conversation for many years: These broadcast networks are much wider tents; they really have to deliver large swaths of the country. That doesn’t mean that Fox doesn’t have an identity or CBS or ABC. … Those identities are important to whether those shows take root. The younger male shows clearly work much better on Fox; the procedurals clearly work on CBS.
–A final overview: “We have had some really defining brands over the years, we have a strong slate coming up, we have a new strong comedy lineup. But this job is certainly about creating new strong branded hits, so we do have our work cut out. But everyone who sits in these jobs has to do that, because every network has to replenish.”