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2013 TV Upfronts: ABC emphasizes 'Scandal' buzz over ratings

“Scandal” is already a hit with TV viewers and a social-media smash, but if ABC’s upfront presentation is any indication, the soapy political drama is also a clear favorite of executives at the network eager to put a positive spin on the their fourth-place finish in the 18-to-49 demographic this season.

“’Scandal’ is a game-changing hit,” proclaimed ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee on Tuesday afternoon at New York City’s Avery Fisher Hall, touting the show’s extremely engaged, Twitter-happy followers to a theater packed with media buyers and ad executives eager to harness the power of social media.

Later, the entire cast of “Scandal” appeared on stage -- the only returning show to get such a showcase.  Lead Kerry Washington, who plays Washington, D.C., crisis manager Olivia Pope on the series, introduced a sneak peek from Thursday’s season finale in which -- spoiler alert! -- her character shares a phone call with her paramour, President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn).

Even Jimmy Kimmel, in the middle of an otherwise caustic monologue, did some earnest “Scandal” cheerleading, boasting that it’s the first network drama in 40 years to feature an African American female lead.

The emphasis on “Scandal” appeared to be part of a larger strategy to emphasize the network “brand” rather than its overall ratings, which declined 8% this year thanks to the ailing “Dancing With the Stars” franchise and a string of flops like “666 Park Avenue” and “Zero Hour.”

In the presentation and in an earlier conference call with reporters, Lee described ABC as the “No. 1 brand in network television.” We’ll see if that pitch clicks with advertisers the same way that “Scandal” has with viewers.  

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