President of ABC Entertainment Paul Lee Talks New Series NASHVILLE, LAST RESORT, THE NEIGHBORS, Serialized Storytelling and More

     July 28, 2012


As part of the TCA Press Tour presentation for ABC, President of ABC Entertainment Paul Lee took some time to talk about their new Fall line-up of comedies and dramas, and some of their already existing series.  During the interview, he spoke about what appealed to him about the new drama series Nashville (starring Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere), what they see for the future of Shawn Ryan’s drama series Last Resort, multi-camera versus single-camera comedies at the network, what happened with the Gotham pilot, and his thoughts on serialized storytelling.  Check out what he had to say after the jump.

paul-lee-imageQuestion:  In regard to Nashville, did you know country music, growing up in England, or did you not find it until you got to the States?  What were your impressions of country music, as you found it?

PAUL LEE:  I used to love country music.  I’ve loved American music, like most of us Brits, since I was a kid.  I used to make documentaries about folk and country musicians.  I made one about Woody Guthrie, a folk musician who I loved.  We’re immensely proud of the CMAs.  We think it’s fantastic.  And country music is really having its moment.  There are so many crossover artists.  But, I think Nashville transcends country music.  I think it is one of those great dramas.  I watched Dallas, when I was a kid.  Was I a fan of oil?  I don’t think so.  I have to say that T-Bone Burnett has done amazing music for Nashville.  We’ve already heard a lot of the music for the next few episodes.  We want to just have a few wonderful pieces of music that the audience grows to love.  And the fact that both Hayden [Panettiere] and Connie [Britton] are singing, I think is gutsy of them.  Frankly, they’re great singers.  So, I think that adds such a nice authentic twist to it.  But, in the end, we’re doing Nashville because we think it’s a great, smart drama. 

How do you see Last Resort fitting in with the ABC brand of the last several years?

nashville cast connie britton hayden panettiereLEE:  The really interesting thing about Last Resort is that it tested better or as well with women as it did with men.  We watch our research very, very closely.  It’s often giving you important notices of what’s going on.  Sometimes it tells you something you haven’t told yourself and are afraid to know.  It’s a cold light of dawn thing.  As a show, I felt it packed an emotional punch to it, which we are thrilled to say that Shawn [Ryan] is really continuing, as it goes through.  It has very strong female characters, but the story itself is very emotional.  So, although it definitely has action in it, we think it’s going to be very strong for women too, and we’re looking forward to both men and women enjoying it.

What do you think of The Neighbors?

abc-the-neighborsLEE:  The Neighbors is very important to me.  I love The Neighbors.  I know there are some issues with the high-concept nature of The Neighbors.  But, when you get a chance to talk to Dan Fogelman, he is an incredibly smart writer.  I think he will combine, in a way that I think Adam [Horowitz] and Eddie [Kitsis] do on Once Upon a Time, that very broad idea with a very smart piece of storytelling.  We are loving the scripts for the show.  I did want to protect it and make sure that it’s between The Middle and Modern Family.  We want to give it that big push because we’re very proud of it, and we’re going to market it.  I wanted to make sure that people started to enjoy the show because I want it to be on the air for a very long time.  I also want to add that Suburgatory is such a good show that we think it’s going to be a really good bridge for Modern Family through to Nashville.  

Are there any thoughts about moving Rookie Blue from a summer show to a Fall season show?

rookie-blue-abcLEE:  Rookie Blue is such a great player for us, and it came out in the summer.  It wasn’t one that was trumpeted.  It wasn’t put through the various obstacles of Upfronts and launches, and now it’s an incredibly valuable asset to us.  We have not made a decision to put it in the season.  We think it is a really strong player for us, and we are actually looking for next summer to do more plays like that.

Except for Malibu Country, the comedy pilots you picked up are single-camera.  What do you see as the future of that genre at the network?

LEE:  We are continuing to develop them.  We are re-piloting Kings of Van Nuys.  Reba [McEntire] is a very important part of it for us.  So, we are building our multi-cameras.  We like to believe that we are truly the destination for defining single-camera, particularly family comedies, and we like to think we do that better than anybody else.  That is an absolute core of our brand. 

What happened with the Gotham pilot?  Was it ultimately deemed to be too similar to Once Upon a Time, or was there just not real estate for it?

paul-leeLEE:  I’m glad you asked that question because Michael Green is one of my favorite writers.  He’s really an amazing writer.  We had very, very strong development this season.  The future will tell whether that plays out.  We were super excited by some of the shows that we had, and I hope you enjoy Nashville and 666 Park Avenue.  It’s a very high bar to meet.  And we had less needs this year than we did last year.  There were something like seven new shows that we brought out.  So, in the end, it didn’t quite make it.  I can tell you that Michael is one of the great showrunners in this town, and you will see him back and making great shows.  I love the title Gotham, by the way.

With the upcoming ABC line-up, you’ve got comedy, drama, suspense, thriller, romance and fantasy.  Was that your goal?

once-upon-a-time-snow-whiteLEE:  We very much feel that ABC has a brand.  Those things that are smart and have heart fit within our brand.  We tend to have great emotional storytelling.  We take risks.  We do provocative shows.  We do shows that are really driven by character and emotion.  That being said, I love the idea that this is a network that can really take risks with the different genres.  You can see risks this year, with the shows that we are doing.  We took risks last year.  That’s really, really fun.  It’s a great opportunity that we get a chance, within that brand, to take some risks.  When the stories deliver it, we absolutely go for it, and we think we are free to do that.

Can you comment about your belief in serialized storytelling, especially since a lot of people are concerned that it doesn’t repeat as well as a procedural?

LEE:  First of all, it’s a very different model.  We tend to be able to sell it more aggressively around the world because it’s appointment television.  It’s also something that we do particularly well.  I started my life on a Brazilian soap opera, at age 21, as an assistant producer.  I worked on British soaps.  I don’t want to overclaim it, but I feel like Revenge has really made soaps cool again.  There is nothing wrong with serialized drama.  I’m proud of it.  It’s not a bad word for me.