Alphabet topper confident 'Modern' will be back

ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee is intent on building on the Alphabet’s success in comedy on Wednesday in other nights and styles, he affirmed at the network’s TV Critics Assn. press tour on Friday.

First he’ll have to keep the foundation of that success intact: “Modern Family,” the hit 9 p.m. half-hour still embroiled in salary negotiations with its cast. Despite repeated questions for an update, Lee offered little insight beyond expressing optimism that a deal would get done.

“I expect the season to start on time,” he said. “We’re hopeful, optimistic that we’ll be able to resolve it.”

Lee also defended his decision to switch the Wednesday comedies that sandwich “Modern” at 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., returning series “Suburgatory” and new half-hour, “The Neighbors.” The reversal of the schedule announced at the upfront was motivated by the realization that “Neighbors” would be better served in a less high-pressure time slot and “Suburgatory” would provide a stronger bridge betwen “Modern” and “Nashville.”

With new comedy blocks starting this season on Tuesday and Friday on ABC, and still more half-hours awaiting midseason berths, Lee has ambitions of increasing the laughs beyond Wednesday. In addition, he’d like to see the network expand on its strength in single-camera comedies to the multi-cam variety. To that end, he intends on re-developing “Kings of Van Nuys,” a half-hour from ABC Studios that the network passed on for 2012-13 but will get another shot.

“We like to believe we are truly the desitnation for defining single camera, particular family comedies,” he said. “We think that’s the absolute core of our brand.”

Lee is also intent on building on the net’s other core strength: new dramas like “Once Upon A Time” and “Revenge,” which help offset the slow fade of existing though still potent hours like “Grey’s Anatomy.” He’s embraced the soap genre, which he says makes up for its weakness in the syndication market by attracting high advertising CPMs and inviting “binge watching.”

“There’s nothing wrong with serialized dramas,” declared Lee.

In a conversation with reporters after the press conference, Lee also said he hasn’t given up on trying period dramas despite the fact that “Pan Am” wasn’t able to keep its early ratings momentum going and the network ultimately passed on a similar hour, “Gilded Lilys.”

“We proved period drama can work on broadcast, but you’ve got to sustain it,” he said of “Pan Am.”

ABC also announced the cast of its first-ever “Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars” season.

Past contestants who will be rejoining the popular competish skein include Kirstie Alley, Apolo Anton Ohno, Drew Lachey, Pamela Anderson, Bristol Palin, Helio Castroneves, Joey Fatone, Shawn Johnson, Gilles Marini, Kelly Monaco, Melissa Rycroft and Emmitt Smith.

Fans will select for the first time the show’s 13th celeb contestant. Kyle Massey, Carson Kressley and Sabrina Bryan are vying for the final spot. Fans can vote for their fave celeb for the “Viewers’ Choice: All-Star” spot on ABC’s website from now until Aug. 24.

The stars’ dance partners will be announced on “Good Morning America” on Aug. 13. “All-Stars” will bow Sept. 24.

Also on the reality front, Lee said no decision has been made on whether summer series “Duets” will get a second season despite a disappointing ratings return on its freshman outing. The exec said he is happy with the execution but acknowledged it is getting tougher to find fresh fare in a maturing genre.

“Reality is hard because its very much more different now to find the shock of the new,” he lamented.

AJ Marechal contributed to this story.

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