Paul Lee, Take a Page From Cool Hand Gaspin

ABC announced that new entertainment president Paul Lee will be appearing at press tour on Sunday morning, which means that he will be able to answer almost no questions except in the broadest possible platitudes.

As for lessons in that art, he should study the NBC transcript and see how its chairman, Jeff Gaspin, handled the few thorny questions thrown his way.

There’s an art to corporate-speak, which involves answering the question, as opposed to punting on everything under the cover of “We’re not able to talk about that.” So Gaspin actually provided answers on the following, without really saying anything that could get him in trouble:

The prospect of Comcast taking over: “Having other executives that are actually in the media space … I think is going to be valuable.”

Sexual harassment in the workplace in entertainment: “I’ve not had any experience with it personally.”

Is Bob Greenblatt talking to NBC about a job there? A clear, definitive “No.”

Commercials on paid Hulu showings: “I have to be a proponent of commercials. It helps pay for our content.”

Too many executives weasel out during such exchanges, whereas Gaspin provides actual responses, albeit while carefully avoiding stepping on any land mines. There’s an art to that, and it’s not one that they generally teach you; it requires a bit of gut instinct and smarts. (By the way, Gaspin got one question so bizarre it almost sounded like it came from an NBC plant, suggesting that McPherson was ousted prior to TCA because ABC feared that there would be such glowing response to another network’s schedule. Or something like that.)

Lee has the advantage of being able to step around any question he doesn’t want to address, using the “I just got here five minutes ago” defense. And he can honestly make like Sgt. Schultz — “I know nothing!” — about the exit of his predecessor, Stephen McPherson.

But as opposed to just saying “I can’t comment on that,” there’s a way of commenting without really saying much — what Bruce Lee called “The art of fighting without fighting” in “Enter the Dragon.”

See you at the gaggle Sunday morning.

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