TCA: ABC’s Paul Lee talks American Crime, TGIT and new fall shows

abc-president-paul-lee Lori Acken
TCA SUMMER PRESS TOUR 2015 - ABC Executive Session - Paul Lee (President, ABC Entertainment Group) addresses the press at Disney | ABC Television Group's Summer Press Tour 2015 at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. (ABC/Image Group LA)

ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee touted the network’s string of successes and its upcoming fall and midseason shows today at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. But first he had a bit of pressing business.

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TCA SUMMER PRESS TOUR 2015 – ABC Executive Session – Paul Lee (President, ABC Entertainment Group) addresses the press at Disney | ABC Television Group’s Summer Press Tour 2015 at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. (ABC/Image Group LA)

“I guess, if you take one thing from my comments this morning,” Lee said, “it’s that I think [How to Get Away with Murder star] Viola Davis should win that Emmy. I mean, she is fierce, and she’s fearless, and she’s sexy, and her performance is nuanced, and we are incredibly proud of that show.”

Lee also honored the Emmy nom success of John Ridley’s anthology series American Crime and hinted at the new season, which will be set in Indianapolis and revolve around an alleged sex crime at a private school. Cast members from Season 1 will appear in new roles in the second outing. “Timothy [Hutton] is coming back,” Lee said, “Felicity [Huffman] is coming back. Felicity’s performance, by the way, one of the most complex, nuanced performances. What I loved was John takes a beloved ABC character, somebody who has been on Desperate Housewives forever, introduces her in a way that our audiences are going to expect a certain position on, and then flips it.”

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AMERICAN CRIME – ABC’s “American Crime” stars Richard Cabral as Hector Tontz. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)

Lee also saluted former gang member Richard Cabral, who scored an Emmy nomination for his searing performance as Season 1’s Hector, and noted the success of freshman series blackish and Fresh Off the Boat, despite early racial concerns for both.

Then he moved onto ABC’s upcoming fall and midseason offerings.

“There are the popcorn shows, there are the page-turners, and, then, there are the really intense dramas. Of Kings and Prophets. Wicked City is going to be deeply intense,” Lee said. “It’s a show that sort of repels and seduces in equal measure. Ed Westwick and Erika Christensen are really fascinating in that show, and we think it’s going to break some molds. … The Catch, of course, with Peter Krause, who has now joined the cast with Mireille Enos — probably the most competitive piece of casting last year. And The Family from Jenna Bans, the scripts are extraordinary. Joan Allen is going to kill this one. … And, then, for the fall, we have our two big soaps for Sunday night. Blood and Oil — Don Johnson is back. And at 10, we have “Quantico,” … we think the whole world is going to be talking about Priyanka Chopra as we come through into the fall.”

Asked to touch on the death of Patrick Dempsey’s Derek Shepherd on Shonda Rhimes’ long running Grey’s Anatomy, Lee said he was pleased to see the show back in the “national conversation” and that the shakeup was a hallmark of Rhimes’ success. “We’ve seen the pitch for Grey’s for next season,” he said. “The show reinvents itself again. She really is a remarkable showrunner, and we have no reason to expect that Grey’s Anatomy won’t go on for many, many years to come.”

Asked about the political bent of Tim Allen’s family sitcom Last Man Standing, in light of the looming election year and Allen’s spirited conversation with reporters at a visit to the show’s set the day prior, Lee noted the show’s strong performance in a tough Friday night time slot said he would be happy if more people talked about it.

“It’s a very political show,” he said, “And Tim’s found an incredibly strong voice. It’s a great cast together — they always enjoy politics. So you can be absolutely sure that Tim is going to be having great fun over the next year.”

Told by a reporter that the star blamed the network for his not being able to take the series’ political humor even further, Lee drew chuckles when he raised an eyebrow and cracked “Did he, now? Well, I look forward to that conversation with him.”

Lee says he’s seen a tremendous change both in the network’s programming and the television landscape in the five years since he took over.

” If you think about it, five years ago there were all sorts of rules of broadcast that were written in stone, right. The racial makeup of a group, the likeability of leads, the moral clarity, can you do period drama or not period drama — and now we’re in a world where Felicity Huffman and {Kerrie Washington] and Viola Davis can put in these incredibly morally complex performances, where we can do period, comedies and dramas, where we can really change it. …we’re enjoying it, because it gives us the real opportunity to take risks and make what we consider to be great television at the different ends of the spectrum.”

And to scout talent in places that would have previously been unheard of — and let proven storytellers explore new avenues.

“We go around the world scouring new talent,” Lee said. “We go to different festivals; we look online all the time to … bring new and strong voices to the network. That’s really the fun of it. And sometimes it’s about finding established talent with a story that they’ve been waiting to tell forever and ever. It’s not like John Ridley or [The Muppets EP] Bill Prady is new talent, but both of them said to us, ‘There’s something I’ve been dying to do.’”

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Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.