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ABC chief's extreme optimism becomes just white noise

Published January 10, 2012 4:46 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Part of a network president's job is to sell his shows. Sell his network. Sell the press on how great his shows and his network are.

ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee has carried that to extremes. He's so consistently upbeat it becomes like white noise ... particularly because he's as upbeat about his failures as he is his successes.

It doesn't just undercut his credibility, it destroys it.

Lee blew himself out of the water with his comments about one of this season's biggest bombs, "Charlie's Angels" - a critical and ratings disaster.

"I don't quite think we breathed life into that franchise, but I think it was a really strong attempt," Lee said.

If "really strong attempt" means "incredibly awful try," then, sure.

And Lee did it over and over again:

• In its eighth season, "Grey's Anatomy" is looking tired. The ratings are down, and the contracts of most of the stars - including Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey - are up at the end of the season. But ...

"'Grey's' came roaring back. It's creatively still at the top of its form," Lee said. "And [executive producer] Shonda [Rhimes] has a vision like nobody else. She knows what she's doing, and she knows where she's going. We've heard her vision, not just for the end of this season, but for beyond, and it's really, really strong. I'm feeling very good about the show."

• Things aren't looking good for the future of "General Hospital." Lee himself admitted that a decision on whether to cancel it looms.

But, man, does he love soap operas:

"I started my life in soap operas. My first job was a second assistant director on a Brazilian soap at 7 o'clock. Not the greatest soap ever made, but I loved it. In Rio. And then I worked on soaps in the U.K., and I'm a fan of 'General Hospital.'

• "Work It" has been reviled by critics and the ratings have been bad. But ...

"I thought there was room, personally, for a very, very, very, very silly show. And I tried it, and it was a little engine. We'll see whether it does well or badly."

• "Pan Am" has been, at best, a disappointment. The ratings have been, at best, mediocre. But ...

"I was really pleased that we actually got there was a period drama, and when we opened, it really brought an audience to it," Lee said. "And there's still a real sense there's such a feeling of goodwill towards that show. People really wanted to be in that place and time. And it's a great cast. People loved it."

Listening to all of this, it means absolutely nothing when Lee tells us how extraordinary his new shows are.

This is not to suggest that Lee is required to criticize his own shows. Clearly, he has to be diplomatic.

But this is not the way to do it.

Unless, of course, he actually thinks "Charlie's Angels" and "Work It" were good shows.

If that's the case, ABC has got a problem.