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Posted at 06:47 PM ET, 01/10/2013

ABC chief talks up Seth MacFarlane as Oscars host


Emma Stone and Seth MacFarlane announce the Oscar noms. (PHIL McCARTEN - REUTERS)
TV critics took a break Thursday from We Welcome a Conversation About TV’s Role in Rampant Real-Life Gun Violence Press Tour to mull whether they should be knicker-knotted about the Hitler joke made by this year’s Oscars host, Seth MacFarlane, at that morning’s Academy Awards nominations unveiling.

“Look, I’m a huge Seth fan. What he brings first is a sense of joy. He wants to be there,” ABC programming chief Paul Lee told the critics when asked about the joke.

“He brings a lot of energy to it. . . .He’s coming to the Oscars with a great sense of respect, but brings a really contemporary feel,” said Lee, boldly ignoring the aged Hitler gag.

“I’m feeling good about it and particularly about him — I think we’ll see a very entertaining Oscars, and Seth is right at the heart of that. I’m really bullish about that.”

Hours earlier, MacFarlane and Emma Stone read the names of nominees in the Best Foreign Film derby, after which MacFarlane said that one of the flicks was co-produced by Austria and Germany and that the last time those two countries co-produced something, it was Hitler.

Eventually, though, critics asked Lee the TV-and-violence question. But because ABC is the only major broadcast network without a serial killer in its prime-time lineup, their hearts weren’t really in it.

(Okay, technically CBS doesn’t have a serial killer, but it has “Criminal Minds” which has been deemed even worse by TV critics and NBC Entertainment chairman.)

Lee called recent events — including last month’s killings of 20 elementary schoolchildren and several adults in Connecticut, and of a dozen moviegoers last summer at a Colorado theater — “awful” and “heartbreaking.” He then launched into the traditional network suit line “certainly we welcome the conversation,” blah, blah, blah.

Then he began to discuss ABC’s “stringent standards,” which he claimed were more stringent than those of its competitors, adding: “We think about it and talk about it all the time.”

“Look, we’re storytellers,” he said, but storytellers with “integrity” and a “moral compass” who tolerate “no gratuitous violence.”

Speaking of storytellers with integrity, the “Dancing With the Stars” all-stars edition was a bust in the fall because, Lee explained, it turns out people like watching bad overweight celebrity dancers shed pounds and learn their left foot from their right for the first time — instead of seeing previous-season winners and crowd faves re-competing.

The all-star edition was concocted to keep the show as competitive as possible when it went head-to-head with “The Voice” for the first time in the fall. “Dancing” scored some record-low numbers for the franchise — down 20 percent year to year among viewers, and 30 percent among young viewers.

The fall’s ratings fiasco notwithstanding, Lee said that the network is still committed to running a spring edition, and two rounds each season.

“There’s a lot of life left in it,” he insisted.

Airing on two nights in the fall, the “Dancing” all-star edition contributed more than its share to ABC’s third-place finish so far this season.

Lee said he was disappointed that none of his new series became hits last fall. The network already has scrubbed two of its high-profile freshman drama series: “Last Resort” and “666 Park Avenue.”

Shows that succeed on ABC are “smart with heart,” the executive said. That’s “Lee-speak” for: “can be male-skewing, but had better be very relatable to ABC’s mostly female audience.”

“If we ever have a [series with a] ‘Do Not Enter’ sign for women, that’s not going to work for us,” Lee said, when asked why these freshman shows had failed.

Yet ABC has ordered a pilot from Joss Whedon for a drama called “S.H.I.E.L.D,” based on Marvel’s “The Avengers.”

“I don’t want to jinx it, but we’re very excited about it,” said Lee, calling it “very Joss” and, yes, “smart with heart.”

By  |  06:47 PM ET, 01/10/2013

 
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