After two solid weeks of non-stop daytime Q&A sessions and nighttime star-encrusted parties, TV critics arrived Sunday morning to talk to ABC programming chief Paul Lee — the final executive session of Summer TV Press Tour 2011 — suffering from that awkward feeling you occasionally get that you’re going to die in about five minutes.
This maybe made them a touch less receptive to Lee’s answers to their questions about the coming TV season than they had been to some of the horseradish they’d been served on a platter by programming execs early in the Tour.
On the other hand, there’s no denying TV critics — who have adored Lee in his past iterations as head of programming for BBC America, and then for ABC Family – are disappointed in Lee’s first ABC primetime schedule. Lee’s been in charge of programming at ABC since last summer, but had, until now, been saddled with the development of his predecessor, Steve McPherson).
So, while Lee continued to lob out the kind of erudite answers that have done so much to make critics feel good about what they do for a living, now he’s giving those answers in response to questions about a “Charlie’s Angel” reboot that makes the original Aaron Spelling TV series of same name look like something penned by Proust.
And in response to questions about a 60’s-set “Pan Am” drama, following stewardesses who, TV critics complained, get girdle-checked and weighed in before going to work each day. (The actresses on the show noted during their Q&A that the stewardesses are okay with that, because they’re “in control of their lives” and getting to see the world.) And, Lee noted happily, it will have a “much brighter and broader canvas” than NBC’s 60’s-set drama “The Playboy Club.”
Then there’s “Revenge” – a midseason drama about a chick named Emily Thorne whose family was driven out of The Hamptons in disgrace many years ago, and who is “empowered” to come back to exact revenge by bumping off the rich denizens of The Hamptons (you go, Emily!). Lee likened that one to Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
New ABC sitcom “Work It,” in which two beefy unemployed guys with heavy beards and hairy legs dress up like chicks in order to land jobs in the pharmaceutical industry, has its roots in Shakespeare, Lee mentioned. And/or Monty Python.
Finally, one exasperated TV critic, asking him about the whole “Work It” Shakespeare reference, put it best when he said to Lee, “My question is: ‘Seriously? Come On Paul!”
Lee, had earlier noted that it’s in his contract to do a cross-dressing comedy because he’s a Brit. But now, growing more serious, he told that critic he’d asked his press wrangler before his Q&A if he should wear a dress, then added:
“When you pick up pilots, there are many reasons why you decide you’re going to pick this up: who is the show runner, what’s the [timeslot] going to be, does it fit your brand…Sometimes, you just pick up a show because it makes you cackle with laughter.
“I make absolutely no excuses for that show, it makes me cackle with laughter, and we think it’s going to get noticed,” Lee said.
That’s already proven true: the midseason “Work It” tops many TV-industry pools for new TV series that will never actually be make it on to the air.
“We did not think this room would like it, and we take some pleasure in that…Did I just say that out loud?” Lee marveled, smiling sweetly.