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TCA 2015: ABC boss Paul Lee talks diversity, 'social conversation' TV

ABC President Paul Lee talks diversity at the Television Critics Assn. press tour

In case it hasn’t been clear, ABC wants to be TV’s melting pot.

ABC, more than any other network this season, pushed hard to bring some diversity--both in front of the camera and behind the scenes--to its lineup.

Wednesday was tapped as the home to the black family comedy “Black-ish”; Thursday brought in an new drama starring acclaimed actress Viola Davis; Friday gave viewers “Cristela,” a Latino family comedy. Next month brings the premiere of “Fresh Off the Boat,” an Asian family comedy.

ABC President Paul Lee, in addressing reporters Wednesday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena, insisted the initiative isn’t about blindly filling quotas.

“It's our job to reflect America,” Lee said. “We didn't pick up these shows because they were diverse. We picked them up because they were great.”

That’s not to say the network doesn’t still have progress to make.

"Fresh Off the Boat" author Eddie Huang penned an essay for New York magazine that detailed the obstacles he faced in keeping the authenticity of his 2013 memoir, about his Taiwanese family’s experience in America, intact for its small-screen translation.

“The network’s approach was to tell a universal, ambiguous, cornstarch story about Asian Americans resembling moo go gai pan written by a Persian American who cut her teeth on race relations writing for Seth MacFarlane,” he wrote. “My story had become an entertaining but domesticated vehicle to sell dominant culture with Kidz Bop, pot shots, and the emasculated Asian male.”

When asked about Huang’s essay, Lee responded: “We love Eddie Huang. It's a comedy. It's not a documentary of his book.”

But the multiculturalism conundrum didn’t stop there. The lack of diversity in its leading men and women for its popular “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” franchises was also raised.

“We had Juan Pablo [Galavis],” Lee noted, referring to last season’s American-born suitor of Venezuelan descent that had been touted as the show’s first “non-Caucasian” bachelor in its history. Lee added that more diversity would be reflected as the franchises continue, with the possibility of a black “Bachelor” in the “future.”

Lee also spent time talking about the network’s other aggressive push in the current TV landscape: combining the traditional with the digital.

“Least objectionable television is dead,” Lee said. “Passion rules and social conversation is so important.”

He later pointed to the success of the “TGIT” block on Thursdays, which consists of Shonda Rhimes-backed shows: “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” The block has been a force in the demo of adults ages 18 to 49.

“‘TGIT’ is really a big cultural phenomenon,” Lee said. .”We encouraged millions of people to take out wine and popcorn every Thursday and really enjoy what is water cooler television.  It’s a great flow of TV, and that’s very traditional. What’s not traditional is the billion Facebook impressions we got from it. It’s a great combination of old and new.”

Twitter: @villarrealy

 

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