ABC's new boss Paul Lee meets the critics: Live from press tour

paul-lee2-abc.jpgPaul Lee has been the head of ABC for less than a week, and he gets to face a roomful of reporters and critics eager to hear his thoughts on the departed Steve McPherson, the network's fall lineup and more. This should be, uh, interesting.

Lee, who until last week ran ABC Family, starts off with a joke about the room being much fuller than when he was launching "Wildfire." Good start. Let's see what else he has to say.

10:02 a.m. PT: "I'm super-unprepared," Lee jokes, but is excited to be taking over an "iconic" entertainment brand like ABC.

10:04: Question: "As much as you can say, what just happened at ABC?" Lee: "Well, I was on vacation ..." -- good laughs. Ah, the British charm.

10:06: Really? Is the skeptical response. You didn't take this job without talking about what happened to Steve McPherson? "I'm not going to talk about Steve," Lee says.

[Side note: ABC communications chief Kevin Brockman said at the start of the day that the statement the network put out earlier this week will be the only word from the network on the McPherson subject.]

10:08: Lee has said about four times now that he's officially been on the job for 36 hours. He's seen all the pilots ABC has, but he hasn't gotten his hands into things much yet.

10:09: Don't expect ABC's 2011-12 schedule to include a "Pretty Little Liars" or "Secret Life" clone. Lee says that while there may be some audience overlap between ABC and ABC Family, the missions are very different and he's cognizant of that.

10:11: "If you don't look at your research, you're not understanding your network," Lee says. But: He's also a former showrunner, and he knows that if a show doesn't hit you in the gut, it's hard to be confident in it. He thinks there should be a balance between research and testing and gut feeling.

10:14: Cable is about doing one thing very well. Broadcast is a "much bigger canvas," he says.

10:15: A critic is skeptical that "No Ordinary Family," with its superhero genre elements, is a "broadcast show." Lee (and we) disagrees, noting that it's also a family show and has entry points for a lot of people.

10:17: "We're all slaves to ratings," Lee says in talking about shows that may be fiercely loved (a la "Better Off Ted") but not widely watched enough to last. He also mentions loving "The Middleman" (sigh), but it did a "terrible" rating for ABC Family that just couldn't sustain life past one season.

10:20: Lee isn't sure whether ABC will try to launch a second night of comedy, but he's seriously happy to have a chip like "Modern Family" -- which he's now said twice deserves the best comedy Emmy -- to play.

10:21: "We're locked and loaded" with regard to premiere week, he says. If you make changes to make changes, it can do more harm than good.

10:23: Broadcast networks are big tents, but they can also have specific brands. "People expect smart, quality storytelling from this network in particular and they expect strong emotions from this network in particular."

10:25: When he saw McPherson dance at the upfronts a few years back, "I remember thinking, 'My god, am I glad I don't have Steve's job.'" Also, he won't repeat that stunt: "I'm British -- I'm far too self-conscious for that."

10:26: Question: Is ABC healthy or unhealthy? He says healthy, naturally, but also notes there's work to be done in terms of refreshing the schedule and launching new hits.

10:28: Lee is asked what he's learned about American culture and tastes in the 12 years he's been in the States (he ran BBC America prior to ABC Family), and he goes back to talking about his gut. People, he says, just like great storytelling regardless of the form it takes, and that's what he hopes to imprint in his time on ABC.

That's it. Did we learn a whole lot about ABC's new schedule? No -- but we weren't really expecting to from a guy who just got the job. But Lee was pretty disarming and gave a pretty good indication of what he'll be looking for as head of the network. For a first run at the critics, he did pretty well.

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Photo credit: ABC

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