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TCA: ABC Programming Chief Paul Lee Jumps The Sharks

TCA Awards 2013ABC programming chief Paul Lee is jumping on the shark bandwagon, announcing this morning his network has scheduled Shark Tank Week for the week of Sept. 8. ABC will not plow through five original episodes of the Mark Burnett-produced reality competition franchise, Lee told TV critics, who’d given the show their TCA Award for best reality series the previous night. Instead Shark Tank Week is merely a re-packaging of five fan-fave repeats. One of the show’s sharks, Mark Cuban, already has been signed to guest on Discovery Channel’s Shark After Dark  late night show as part of its Shark Week. Lee declined – twice – to discuss the scheduling of Shark Tank Week to coincide with NBC’s live Ryan Seacrest-hosted game show Million Second Quiz, during Lee’s Q&A this morning at TCA Summer TV Press Tour 2013.

Lee also declined to take a whack at Netflix for not releasing any viewing stats on House of Cards  – a leitmotif of this summer’s press tour. Lee went with “competition is good.” Critics asked Lee loads of micro-questions about his network’s plans – unveiled in May at the upfronts – to air “a selected group” of dramas in two uninterrupted runs, one in the fall and one in the spring, bridged by limited series. But ABC’s new Once Upon A Time spinoff, Once Upon a Time: Wonderland  — originally announced as a bridge show between the Once Up on a Time’s fall and spring seasons, has instead been scheduled in the fall on Thursday nights because “We just fell in love with it,” and “it’s a rabbit hole I wanted to go down for the full season.”

Plus, he noted, “We were looking to build a real block on Thursday of Empowered Women [Drinking Game!] on Thursday nights. This is Alice like you have never seen before. She’s a truly kick-ass Alice,” he said.  And by ‘empowered, kick-ass Alice,’ he means an Alice who’s saved from “a doomed fate” by the White Rabbit and a handsome genie with whom she’s in love, who Lewis Carroll forgot to mention in his original story. Female Empowerment Thursday on ABC includes Alice in peril, Grey’s Anatomy, and Scandal.

Lee did not rule out the possibility that Dancing with the Stars could return to a two-night-a-week play pattern; for its fall edition the competition series that took a ratings tumble last season has been busted down to Monday nights only to open up Tuesday for “four quadrant” series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Goldbergs, and Lucky 7. The Monday editions of Dancing are being crafted include dances, followed by a compilation of judge and viewer votes “for the decision at the end” of each episode, Less explained, but would not elaborate, suggesting the TV critics instead put their questions to Dancing exec producer Conrad Green at the ABC party in the evening.

Lee likewise dodged a question about the Time Warner Cable vs CBS/Showtime kerfuffle currently depriving Time Warner Cable customers of CBS and Showtime programs in some key markets, including Los Angeles, where the press tour is in its final days.  “I don’t want to comment on their dispute,” Lee said. “I know they’re both commenting.”

“That’s for them,” he added, for good measure. And, under Questions To Which We Already Knew The Answer: Would Lee like to do more series in conjunction with Disney-owned Marvel (besides this season’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) and any  series with Lucasfilm, which Disney acquired last fall? You win if you went with “you betcha!” Lee began his Q&A with his traditional How Excited Am I rundown of his new lineup. Later in the session, however, he expounded on being “half way through a massive revolution” in television – a conclusion to which he says he came while attending a wake in Ireland and being struck by all the people who came up to him to talk about their favorite American TV shows. “We don’t give ourselves enough credit for how powerful American television is,” Lee, a Brit, told the crowd of American and Canadian TV critics. His biggest misstep as ABC’s chief programmer was “Missing” which was constructed with international sales in mind, which only leads to “something that is all compromise.”  Lee also spent a chunk of time listening to TV critics play network scheduler, wondering why ABC hadn’t Scheduled Show X with Show Y. He swatted them all away elegantly.

Earlier in the tour, Grey’s Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey had said race car driving is his passion, and acting on the ABC soap is what he does to finance that passion. Naturally a critic asked Lee this morning to comment on that. Lee noted the show, which has survived many cast changes over the years (heard from Katharine Heigl, anyone?), that show creator Shonda Rhimes is an “extraordinary force,” is planning out the show for the next several seasons and “will always bring changes” of “her choice” which he supports.

Your move, Mr Dempsey.