Winter TCA: ABC chief Paul Lee talks Kimmel, fall failures

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Jimmy Kimmel can’t quite claim the late-night crown just yet — but his bosses at ABC are quite pleased with their contender.

“There’s no question that Jimmy has come out strong,” President of ABC Group Paul Lee said of Kimmel’s performance, speaking Thursday at the winter TV press tour in Pasadena.

Kimmel’s debut in the 11:35 p.m. time slot with his late-night talk show averaged 3.1 million viewers, falling just short of NBC’s Jay Leno but outpacing CBS’ David Letterman. By his second night in the competitive time slot, according to fast national ratings, Kimmel grew his demographic audience but lost some force in total viewers — still keeping his edge over Letterman. It’s a promising start for Kimmel and ABC — but whether it can maintain that momentum as it settles in alongside its veteran competition remains to be seen.


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“[He’s] shown that he’s going to be competitive in that time slot,” Lee added. “I think he’s off to a good start.”

There’s another funnyman making headlines for the alphabet network: Seth MacFarlane. In an unusual move, the Oscar host was put out in front when this year’s nominations were announced Thursday morning — perhaps as a way to introduce him to older viewers not well-versed with the “Family Guy” creator.

And it wasn’t long — or too early in the morning — before MacFarlane got tongues wagging with a Hitler joke. When presenting the foreign film category, which featured “Amour” (a German and Austrian co-production), MacFarlane joked: “The last time Austria and Germany got together and co-produced something it was Hitler, but this is much better.”

None of which had Lee regretting the host’s selection: “I think he’s going to bring us a really contemporary feel and have a lot of fun out there. I may be proven wrong, but I think you’re going to see a very entertaining Oscars.”

Lee also addressed the network’s performance in prime time in the fall. Though awards stalwart “Modern Family” continues to perform strongly, and the network has seen some its dramas post gains when DVR viewing is factored in, Lee expressed disappointed that ABC — and its broadcast counterparts — didn’t have a breakout newcomer: “We have a lot to shout about, but we also have a lot to do.”


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The network is down 4% in the coveted demographic of viewers ages 18 to 49 compared with the previous season, ranking fourth in the demo. It ranks third in total viewers.

“Nashville,” one of the most-anticipated new series of the fall (which boasted heavy marketing and a “Modern Family” lead-in) found that its ratings were hardly chart-topping — and were down from the numbers “Revenge” was pulling in in that time slot a year ago. And while young viewers have taken a liking to the show, Lee says the network needs to attract older viewers (the 35-to-49 demographic).

In contrast, “Dancing With the Stars: All Stars” brought in the older set but didn’t score high enough with younger viewers. The dancing competition will continue with its twice-a-week rollout, with the spring season reverting to a cast of new celebrity contestants.

Lee went on to say he was “surprised” by the failure of “666 Park Avenue.” The Sunday night supernatural drama had been shedding its “Revenge” lead-in since its premiere and was ultimately not given a full-season order.

Also failing to gain ratings traction — and ending up on the chopping block — was “Last Resort.” The Shawn Ryan submarine thriller struggled against tough competition, which included CBS’ comedy heavyweight “The Big Bang Theory,” in its 8 p.m. Thursday slot. Part of the problem was it failed to attract female viewers, Lee admitted.


“If we do shows that guys like but women don’t want to come to, then that doesn’t work for us,” he said.

The network’s midseason slate includes “Zero Hour,” a mystery starring Anthony Edwards (“ER”), and “Red Widow,” about a woman who gets involved with the mob after her husband is murdered.

And Lee said he was “very hopeful that a new comic-based drama, Joss Whedon’s “S.H.I.E.L.D.,” will go to series next season.


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