ABC's Lee Laments Lack Of Hits, But Trumpets Brand Success

Nashville-APasadena, Calif. -- New TV shows for the broadcast season have been underwhelming ratings performers for many -- including ABC executives.

Paul Lee, president of ABC Entertainment Group, in speaking at the Television Critics Association meeting here, said: "We were disappointed that there were no breakout hits this season -- on any of the networks."

However, ABC managed to eke out a somewhat of a quiet fall win -- being No. 1 in C3 ratings, commercial ratings plus three days of time-shifted viewing, when looking at non-sports programming. NBC has been the champ so far when it comes to live program-plus-same-day ratings, and for all programs -- sports included -- in C3.

ABC's brand remains strong. Lee says ABC is the top TV brand among women 18-49 and other key categories.

Looking at the broader entertainment environment, it isn't just cable networks that ABC and other broadcast networks compete with. "We are in a much more complicated world," says Lee. "With the DVR, we aren't just competing against the other networks; we compete against ourselves."

ABC says with shows like "Nashville" and others the network is learning how to keep series on the air for the long term. "We learned from CBS how to sustain shows... and how to bring the older audiences in." Lee says the network is very happy with "Nashville," especially that it is No. 1 among young women 18-34.

Asked about the shooting tragedies in Sandy Hook, Conn. and Aurora, Colo. last year, and how this may effect ABC dramatic show content and development, he says: "We are storytellers and want to make sure the stories are done with integrity -- and that we have a moral compass."

Lee says ABC's efforts to push family programming on Friday night will continue. "[Reality show] 'Shark Tank' is a great show for us," he says, adding that "Reba" and "Last Man Standing" are also doing well.

Family viewing also means co-viewing. ABC says it has more co-viewing shows than other networks -- somewhere around eight of the top 20 co-viewed shows, says Lee. This list includes a lot its comedies, such as "Modern Family" and "The Middle" and even realty show "Shark Tank."

"Dancing with the Stars," one of the network's biggest draws, was down in ratings during the fall, due to its special all-star edition. It will appear twice a year for the foreseeable future. Although the show continues to skew older, Lee says getting a big total viewer number -- 16 million -- still means a lot in the current broadcast network environment.

New mid-season dramas for ABC include "Zero Hour," about a big American mystery and conspiracy, which debuts Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. "Red Widow" is about a housewife from Northern California who continues the work of her husband, who was in organized crime, to protect her family. That begins March 3.

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