The networks are often very kind to Television Critics Association people. They stir up some sort of newsy chaos whenever we visit them in Los Angeles.
This time, it was the abrupt changeover at ABC. Fortunately, the network had a good programmer ready to fill the sudden hole. Here's the story I sent to papers; I'm putting it here right away, becase of the time factor:
By MIKE HUGHES
LOS ANGELES – After a sudden and
dizzying change, ABC might seem to have a mismatch.
Gone is Stephen McPherson, who molded
the network's programming for six years. Amid reports of
sexual-harassment accusations, the network has had a no-comment
Stepping in is Paul Lee, sort of
McPherson's opposite. He's a quiet Englishman, an Oxford grad.
Yes, that's a surprise. This network –
with “American” in its title and Mickey Mouse in its DNA – is
run by an Englishman. An outside perspective can be fine, Lee told
“Being an outsider – either by
country or by age – (is) a real motive to do a lot of research,”
For six years, Lee programmed ABC
Family, which was girl-oriented. “I've just spent the last six
years trying to channel … my inner female teen,” he said.
He succeeded, usually with shows that
included warmth and hope.
Lee tried fantasy shows; “Middle Man”
failed – “I adored that show (but) it was the wrong show for the
network” – but “Kyle XY” succeeded. He scored with TV movies,
failed with reality shows, had a clever comedy (“10 Things I Hate
About You”) and a praised family drama (“Lincoln Heights”).
Mostly, he succeeded with dramas
focusing on teens – in sororities (“Greek”), in gymnastics
meets (“Make It or Break It”) or in trouble (“The Secret Life
of the American Teenager”). This summer, he scored with two more
teen dramas, “Pretty Little Liars” and “Huge.”
Then came the abrupt change by the
Disney-owned network: On Tuesday (July 27), ABC issued a terse
statement that McPherson had resigned; it phoned Lee, who was
vacationing on a California beach.
When he met reporters Sunday morning,
he'd been on the job for 36 hours. This was not a time for substance;
Lee mentioned “Modern Family five times, mentioned his wife six
It was, however, a time to set a mood.
Lee looks like actor Jim Parsons (Sheldon on “Big Bang Theory”)
and sounds like a beloved English teacher; his master's degree is in
He's not the first Oxford man to run a
network; CBS thrived when Howard Stringer was in charge. More often,
Ivy Leaguers are at the top. Until recently, two networks were
programmed by friends – McPherson and Fox's Kevin Reilly – who
were Phi Delta Theta fraternity brothers at Cornell.
Many network people are outsiders,
guessing the tastes of Middle America. Instincts help, Lee said. “If
a show doesn't really move you or hit you in the gut,” it won't
And testing? The British “The
Office,” he said, “was the worst-tested show I had ever tested in
my life,” then became an international hit. Still, he sees
advantages to research. “Ignore testing at your peril, because it
will often tell you weaknesses that you are too self-deceptive to
There are plenty of strong ABC shows,
Lee said. He mentioned “Modern Family,” “Grey's Anatomy,”
“Desperate Housewives,” “Dancing With the Stars” and the
summer success of “Bachelorette.”
McPherson helped nurture all of them;
with the just-departed “Lost,” he proved that a quirky show can
succeed. “So many of the brand-defining shows on this network have
been wonderful, serialized appointment television that nobody can not
watch within four hours,” Lee said.
McPherson prepared a fall schedule that
has standard shows and quirky ones. “My Generation” spans a
decade, “Better Together” spans a generation, “No Ordinary
Family” has accidental superpowers.
Don't expect Lee to change that now.
“We're locked and loaded,” he said. Changes “can make more
damage than good.”
The shows will debut in September, as
scheduled. It will be Steve McPherson's line-up on Paul Lee's
network. Two outsiders – from Cornell and Oxford – reach for the