Reviewing ABC's Outgoing Programming Chief: Could He Have Used A Little Sports Help?

ABC’s outgoing programming chief Paul Leehad a tough task when he started five and half year ago: Rebuild an aging prime-time programming lineup amid overall declining broadcast network viewership.

Lee had a penchant for the scandalous and the juicy: prime-time soaps like “Scandal,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” and “Nashville.”

He also tried to figure out the next generation of reality shows, hoping to succeed with the aging “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Bachelor.” That didn’t work well.

Seems that higher-ups wanted much safer stuff like those procedural crime dramas on CBS, such as  “CSI” and “NCIS.” Even NBC expanded its programming lot this way, with a new array of procedurals from “Law & Order” franchise maker Dick Wolf -- “Chicago Fire” among them.



What CBS, NBC and others like about these procedural shows -- unlike soap dramas -- are they are easily repeatable and self- contained; viewers don’t need to have watched previous episodes to come aboard.

Lee figure dcounter programming was the best bet for ABC to succeed. Why play copycat against two networks? ABC’s lone sustainable crime procedural drama has been “Castle.”

Even then ABC  needed help. Three other broadcast networks each have key, high-rated programming and valuable promotional platforms: NFL programming, on Sunday afternoons -- and, for NBC and CBS, in prime time with “Sunday Night Football” and “Thursday Night Football” respectively.

If that isn’t enough, NBC has 16 high-rated days every two years of Summer and Winter Olympics programming, time that’s also heavily used to promote non-sports programming.

ABC used to have this kind of sports platform, but abandoned its “Monday Night Football” franchise a decade ago, giving it up to its sister sports network ESPN. And while ABC does have the NBA Finals, that up-to-two-week event comes in June, only giving the network a rating bump after the traditional TV season ends in May.

Incoming ABC Entertainment chief Channing Dungey, who was instrumental in Lee’s programming strategy, now has a more difficult choice: Keep moving to the same programming beat, or play a new song?

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