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ABC’s Paul Lee: ‘Lead-Ins Matter,’ Despite Time-Shifted Viewing

During his TCA exec session, ABC prez Paul Lee was candid about the success of some of his net’s recent launches: “As you’re reinventing a network, you take a number of swings… and a number of them won’t work.”

Lee spoke specifically about fall drama “Lucky 7,” which failed to take off, in addition to recently yanked mini “The Assets.” “Lucky 7,” the exec remarked, may have done better in the 8 p.m. timeslot, instead of its 10 p.m. slot on Tuesdays, where it was pulled from after two episodes. “We marketed it early, and didn’t get a response from it as an idea… It was an excellent piece of TV and we are sorry to see it go. We thought the notion of doing something that feels different than American TV is a risk worth taking, but it didn’t resonate.”

“The Assets” is also a concept that Lee is proud of creatively, even though it pulled dismal ratings during its debut earlier this month. Lee assured the room of journos that ABC will find a spot for viewers to watch the remaining episodes of “The Assets,” whether it be on network in the coming months, or on ABC’s digital platforms.

Furthermore, Lee announced that modestly rated “Killer Women” will end two weeks earlier than scheduled, allowing “Mind Games” to debut on Feb. 25, where a special edition of “The Bachelor” can serve as a solid lead-in.

ABC trumpeted its latest unscripted effort, the upcoming “Rising Star,” a singing competition that boasts live voting and unparalleled audience engagement with the series. A hit overseas, “Rising Star” however bumps into a circumstantial issue as it docks Stateside: Live voting in the U.S. can be a real challenge, given the time zone differences across America.

Lee emphasized that ABC has not decided how ABC will handle the time zone issue, but nevertheless rattled off some options that the creatives of “Rising Star” are exploring. One prospect is having West Coast auds watch a live feed of the competing singer online during the East Coast broadcast. There, these West Coasters will be able to vote, and then tune into the West Coast broadcast to see results. Another prospect is a rolling voting system where each time zone will have contestants that they specifically can vote on.

Much of the discussion during the exec session focused on scheduling ABC’s primetime lineup. Lee admitted that scheduling “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” during the fall was a dubious move, and that the fantasy-drama would have better been placed during midseason while “Once Upon A Time” was on hiatus.

As for how lead-ins affect scheduling, Lee remarked that they “matter, though not the way they did in the ’80s.”

“Launching big shows on TV is an incredibly difficult thing to do in a fragmented environment, especially when sometimes 70% of viewers will watch time-shifted. But, [lead-ins] do matter… It’s one of a number of things. You need to resonate in the way you market a campaign, match the brand you’re putting on air, the lead-in needs to be good, and you have to be lucky with competition. I do think lead-ins matter.”

Timeslots Lee thinks need the most work? Tuesday at 8, Thursday at 8 and Sunday at 10.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a 2014 Winter TCA exec session this week without the inevitable pilot season question. Lee called himself a “gradualist,” stating that the net will gradually move away from the focus on pilots and pilot season. Yet, he said he agrees with CBS topper Nina Tassler in that pilot season’s “focus” and “deadlines” have been “extremely successful for American TV for 50 years,” something that Lee — a Brit — has always admired, even when he was living across the Pond.

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