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TCA: ABC prexy talks skedding, midseason bows

Paul Lee sez Alphabet takes targeted approach to launches

Championing a more year-round approach to scheduling, ABC Entertainment Group prexy Paul Lee said his lineup of midseason shows gives ABC the best recipe for ongoing success.

In addressing scribes at the Television Critics Assn. tour in Pasadena on Tuesday, Lee said holding back a handful of skeins for midseason allows the Alphabet “the chance to get the best shows out there.”

“My job isn’t to launch a week’s worth of television, but to bring great television and spend a year launching it,” he said.

The net has a slew of upcoming programming set to debut over the next few months, including dramas “The River,” “Scandal” and “Missing” as well as laffer “Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23.”

As for veteran comedy “Cougar Town,” which Lee had taken off the fall sked and has been looking for a return date, the ABC topper said the Courteney Cox starrer will come back in March.

One reason why Lee feels confident about his midseason skeins is that the net has the advantage of using the Oscar telecast as a promotional launch pad. With a strong female aud tuning in to the Feb. 26 Academy Awards, skeins such as “Missing” — where Ashley Judd does whatever it takes to find her son — and the soapy “GCB” could get a bump from femme viewers.

“It’s better to make sure those shows stand out from the crowd,” Lee said.

Lee cited the decision to hold back the launch of fantasy skein “Once Upon a Time” until Oct. 23, well after the crush of mid-September premieres on the Big Four nets. Lee said focusing ABC’s marketing resources on the show may have made a difference.

“The delayed launch felt good at the time. It was going to have its day in the sun and the network could throw everything at it,” Lee said.

For “The River,” ABC will screen the upcoming skein in theaters around the country — including college campuses — to generate enthusiasm. Net only shot eight episodes, but Lee confirmed the supernatural thriller does come to a suitable conclusion if it is not renewed for a second season.

Looking back to the beginning of the current season, Lee’s satisfaction was evident in discussing ABC’s revamped two-hour Wednesday block. New laffer “Suburgatory” has hit paydirt in the 8:30 p.m. timeslot, hammerlocked between strong performers “The Middle” and “Modern Family.” Though it loses much of its “Family” lead-in, 9:30 entry “Happy Endings” has shown signs of improvement.

“We thought we had a strong fall,” he said. “We know it’s only the beginning, but we were happy to see Wednesday become the destination for our audiences and advertisers. We’re very pleased with that.”

On Tuesdays, “Last Man Standing” with Tim Allen has performed admirably in leading off the night. Transgender comedy “Work It,” which received a critical backlash and opened poorly, follows at 8:30 and won’t likely be around for long.

“Cougar Town” may take the “Work It” timeslot when the sitcom returns in March, although Lee wouldn’t give any more specifics about a specific date. He anticipated having an answer in a few weeks.

“We haven’t quite got the jigsaws in place for where we want to put it,” he said.

As for “Cougar Town,” exec producer Bill Lawrence has been very vocal with complaints about the show not being on the fall schedule and still not having an official return date. Lee said he doesn’t begrudge Lawrence for speaking out.

“I used to be Bill when I was a pirate showrunner,” he explained. “He does a great job of getting his audience excited and getting a group of people around it.”

Lee also addressed the network’s references to the term “bitch” in two series titles, before skeins “Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23” and “GCB” were renamed. The latter was originally called “Good Christian Bitches.”

“It is a challenge,” said Lee on the difficulties to market and promote a drama such as “GCB,” which stars Kristin Chenoweth and doesn’t say much about the storyline in its title. “I hope it will pique people’s interests. We would love to have people go there. It’s something that’s edgy.”

On the daytime front, Lee said he didn’t know when he would make a decision on the future of “General Hospital,” the last remaining sudser on the net. Last year ABC canceled “One Life to Live” and “All My Children” because of declining ratings and the high cost of production.

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