You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

ABC’s Paul Lee Talks ‘Muppets’ Problems, ‘Quantico’ Strength and Value of ‘Big Swings’

ABC Entertainment Group chief Paul Lee was candid about the shortcomings of the much-ballyhooed revival of “The Muppets” in assessing the network’s performance during his presentation Saturday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif.

The fall launch in general was solid for the Alphabet. Lee cited the Sunday night FBI drama “Quantico” as having emerged an important new player. Star Priyanka Chopra is “a quintessential ABC star,” Lee enthused, pointing to the growth in delayed viewing week after week. “We really think the show has legs.”

But on “Muppets,” Lee didn’t gild the lily. The show was a creative disappointment even if it turned in a decent Nielsen number. Lee said he’s encouraged by five scripts that he’s seen from new showrunner Kristin Newman, who was recruited last year to replace Bob Kushell.

The response to the “Muppets” underscored the depth of affection among viewers for Kermit and Co. And Lee singled out the “great” marketing campaign ABC produced to support the launch. But the show, which was fast-tracked to series on the basis of a short presentation reel, had problems.

“The show itself didn’t quite feel it had the joy and the laughter and the heart that it should have,” Lee said.

Lee was also questioned about the quick flame-out of drama “Wicked City,” which was hammered by critics for what many viewed as gratuitous violence and kinkiness in telling the story of a serial killer menacing Los Angeles in the early 1980s. Lee made no apologies, calling the show “a big swing.”

Taking a chance on a show that pushes boundaries beats “trying to eek some B-pluses,” Lee said. “It didn’t work but I was proud to have done it.”

Lee voiced his support for Shonda Rhimes’ decision to have “Scandal” surprise viewers in the fall when protagonist Olivia Pope decided to have an abortion. “I loved the way it was a big surprise,” he said. “I backed her to the hilt.”

Lee showed a lengthy clip from the Shondaland midseason drama “The Catch,” which has undergone major surgery since it was ordered to series last May. Peter Krause replaced the original male lead and “Scandal” alum Allan Heinberg replace creator Jennifer Schuur and Josh Reims as showrunner.

Lee said he expected to get the revamped first episode by the end of next week. The clip demonstrated the cat-and-mouse chemistry between Krause and star Mireille Enos in the show about a conman who dupes a fraud investigator. “If you like TGIT (dramas) you’re going to love ‘The Catch,’ ” Lee assured.

Lee also cued a long trailer for the upcoming miniseries “Madoff,” starring Richard Dreyfus and Blythe Danner.

Among other tidbits from the session:

  • Lee gave a strong vote of confidence to drama “Nashville,” after he was asked whether next season would be the last for the Music City-set sudser. “We have no plans for ‘Nashville’ other than to keep it going,” he said.
  • Midseason comedy “The Real O’Neals” has drawn some complaints for its portrayal of an Irish Catholic family dealing with a son who comes out as gay. Lee said he feels the show is a good fit with the Wednesday family comedy block and that it was “full of family and faith and joy and humor.” And he added that it scoring well with an important constituency: “My wife is an Irish Catholic and she’s loving the show.”
  • On the fate of “Castle,” Lee said he hoped there could be a spinoff crafted if stars Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic decide against doing another season.
  • Lee gave a shout-out to the second season of anthology drama “American Crime,” calling it “John Ridley playing at the height of his game.” He was asked about the issue of confusion with FX’s upcoming “The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” He admitted that FX came after ABC to have “a conversation” about the title touchiness. But ultimately he’s confident that the shows will stake out their own turf. “It’s really interesting to see the slow burn of people getting into this series,” he said.

More TV

  • Adam Lambert, of Queen, performs at

    Adam Lambert Back to 'Idol' to Mentor Finalists Through Queen's Catalog

    Adam Lambert famously launched his career on “American Idol” a decade ago performing a brilliant audition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He wrapped that amazing eighth season performing with the band on the season finale, and years later earned his current spot as the front man touring as Queen + Adam Lambert. On April 28, Lambert comes full circle as he steps [...]

  • Lily Tomlin SAG Lifetime Acheivement Award

    TV News Roundup: Netflix's 'Laugh-In' 50th Anniversary Tribute Sets Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Netflix sets the premiere date for its 50th anniversary special of “Laugh-In.” DATES “Laugh-In: The Stars Celebrate,” the 50th anniversary tribute to the original series by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, will premiere on Netflix on May 14. The special, which was taped at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, pays [...]

  • Texas Tech's Norense Odiase (32) shoots

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of April 8: NCAA Championship Game Dunks on Competition

    The final of the 2019 NCAA basketball tournament, in which Virginia triumphed over a spirited Texas Tech team, unsurprisingly finished way out in front in the Live+3 ratings for the week of April 8. Although the sports broadcast’s scripted competition made some gains, its 5.4 ratings still more than doubled that of “Grey’s Anatomy” in [...]

  • Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million

    Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million Total Viewers Across TV News

    Coverage of the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into whether President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice unsurprisingly caused a ratings bump across TV news yesterday. In terms of overall viewership, around 11 million people tuned in to see Attorney General William Barr’s news conference regarding the report’s release, and the news coverage surrounding it. According [...]

  • Neilsons Measurment Problems TV Digital

    WarnerMedia Pulls Out of Audience-Targeting Alliance Open A.P.

    WarnerMedia is going its own way when it comes to helping advertisers find specific groups of TV-watchers. The company, a founding member of the audience-targeting media alliance known as Open A.P., said Friday it would withdraw from the group, citing its desire to pursue its own strategy under owner AT&T. AT&T purchased Time Warner in [...]

  • BLESS THIS MESS - "The Chicken

    Listen: Lake Bell, Dax Shepard on Returning to Broadcast TV With 'Bless This Mess'

    Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety’s television podcast. In this week’s installment, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway, chats with Lake Bell and Dax Shepard, stars of ABC’s “Bless This Mess,” which debuted on Monday. The show centers around a newly married couple, played by Bell and Shepard, who decide to ditch their shoebox New York City [...]

  • superstore renewed season 3

    'Superstore' Showrunner Justin Spitzer Steps Down as He, Gabe Miller, Jonathan Green Renew Overall Deals at UTV

    “Superstore” executive producers Justin Spitzer, Gabe Miller and Jonathan Green have all renewed their overall deals with Universal Television. In addition, Miller and Green will take over showrunner duties on “Superstore” while Spitzer — who also created the series — will shift to develop new projects for the studio beginning with the 2019-2020 season. “I [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content