ABC President Paul Lee is very excited about the network's new batch of comedies, but at Tuesday's Television Critics Association fall previews, he spent some time defending a comedy he had to cancel last year.
See all the news from ABC's TCA day
Lee fielded several questions about the cancellation of Trophy Wife, a low-rated comedy that some critics believed ABC never gave a chance to succeed by putting it in the network's successful Wednesday night comedy block. "We were always disappointed... not to get a pulse for it," Lee said. "We tried hard to create really promotable episodes and still couldn't bring any people to it. We did try some repeats [on Wednesdays]. Wherever we put it, it just didn't connect with an audience and we are sad."
However, Lee is "bullish" about his new comedy slate, which includes Black-ish, Cristela, and midseason replacement Fresh off the Boat, all of which feature a diverse cast and explore racial and cultural issues. "It is a mission statement to reflect America. We think that's our job," Lee said. "There's not so much diversity as authenticity when you're reflecting America. We went out of our way to approach some of the best storytellers and when they come in with specificity and bring you stories that are authentic... you really have no other option but to pick them up."
However, Lee believes each show will appeal to all audiences. " We think these shows are deeply relatable," he said. "When I watch Fresh Off the Boat, when I watch Black-ish or Cristela, I am one of those families. ... Great stories will resonate in the heart and gut of the audience anywhere in the world. My job is to see whether these shows move me, whether they move me to laughter or tears. If they do it in an authentic way, then we have a chance to resonate."
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Other highlights from Lee's executive session:
Is the end of Grey's Anatomy nigh? Now that the show has signed its key cast members through Season 12, is that a possible endpoint for the medical drama? "We don't talk about those contract negotiations, but... [creator Shonda Rhimes] has a very clear plan for the show," Lee hedged. (When we caught up with Rhimes later, she said: "Grey's is still the No. 1 drama on television for anybody under the age of 50, so no. Right now, as long as I am still interested in what happens next, I'm not thinking about [the end] yet.")
More Once Upon a Time spin-offs? Although Lee again took the blame for Once Upon a Time in Wonderland's failure ("I would have given that show a better chance and put it in the gap of [Once's season]," he said of what he would do differently in retrospect), he didn't rule out the possibility of the Onceuniverse expanding again. "Adam [Horowitz] and Eddy [Kitsis] are incredibly inventive," he said. "They have glints in their eyes of stories they can spin for many years to come on Once. It certainly doesn't rule out their ability to go beyond Once. [But] in many ways, Once itself changes every year by bringing in new characters."
Once Upon a (Frozen) Time: Speaking of Once, Lee told reporters after his panel that he didn't think it was too soon to bring Frozen, a relatively new story, into the world of classic fairy tales. "Frozen is a wonderful asset. John Lasseter himself flew up to Vancouver. He's integrally related to the way we're doing that. Adam and Eddy always have a twist on a story so you can imagine that that twist is going to be very different. I think it's the perfect time. We're thrilled with it."
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Goldbergs is golden: Despite his disappointment with Trophy Wife, Lee was incredibly gratified by the success of The Goldbergs last season. The show found an audience and summer repeats in the show's new Wednesday timeslot have been promising. "I think that show is going to be discovered by a lot more people this year," Lee sais. "We're thrilled with the creative. ... I truly believe that show is going to be an asset on this network for many, many years to come."
Rising Star on the rise: Lee is happy to see that, after a soft opening, new reality singing competition is working through the kinks of live voting, etc. "It's starting to build," he said. "We were a little disappointed with the numbers, wanted it to be a little bit higher." But now that the show has figured out the technology and the time-zone issues, Lee said, "I think you're going to see that idea roll through reality shows."
Broadcast vs. cable (and digital): Lee rejects the idea that shows have to fit into the same boxes they used to. He argues instead that if a show connects with an audience, they will watch, no matter where it airs. "For scripted television... people choose what they're passionate about," he says. "It's no longer the least objectionable television, it's 'What do I love?' I think there's strength and skill on all the different platforms. I'd put any of our shows up against cable shows."