ABC Re-Ups Paul Lee

Disney gives entertainment chief a vote of confidence

With just a month to go before it pitches its 2014-15 upfront slate, ABC has re-upped entertainment president Paul Lee.

The genial Brit has signed a new multiyear deal with the network, and while terms were not disclosed, it is believed that the contract will keep Lee locked down through spring 2018.

Lee took the helm of ABC and the network’s studio unit in July 2010 when he succeeded outgoing entertainment chief Steve McPherson. Previously, Lee had served as the head of the cable net ABC Family. 

While ratings have sagged during Lee’s tenure—ABC is on pace to finish last among the Big Four in the adults 18-49 demo for three seasons running—slow and steady wins the race at the Disney-owned network.

Insiders say that Disney CEO Bob Iger prizes stability over nearly all other virtues, and Lee is expected to play a key role in the company’s succession plan. (Disney last month announced that it had named ABC News president Ben Sherwood the successor to Anne Sweeney. Effective Feb. 1, 2015, Sherwood will assume the title of co-chairman, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group.)  

If the ABC’s ratings struggles show no sign of abating—season to date, the network is averaging a 2.1 in the dollar demo, down 9 percent from the year-ago 2.3—Lee’s development choices generally have been inspired. While one wouldn’t necessarily characterize them as crowd pleasers, his comedies have been particularly strong; unfortunately, the funnier the show, the clunkier the title. (See: Trophy Wife, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23, Suburgatory, et al.)

Drama’s been a sticky wicket for Lee; since taking the helm, ABC has renewed just four in-season dramas (Revenge, Once Upon a Time, Nashville, Scandal) and the summer series Mistresses. (Scandal is by far the shiniest bauble on Lee’s knickknack shelf, averaging a gaudy 3.0 in its Thursday 10 p.m. time slot.)

Odds are two freshman dramas will join the aforementioned renewal roster: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Resurrection. One final new drama, Black Box, is set to premiere on Thursday, April 24.

While ABC has yet to announce any series renewals, the veteran shows Modern Family, Castle, Revenge, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and The Middle are shoo-ins for the network’s fall schedule. 

ABC will take the wraps off its upfront slate on Tuesday, May 13, at New York’s Linocln Center. Spoiler alert: Jimmy Kimmel will show up to inform attendees that the TV business is total bullshit … and at least one media outlet will miss the joke.