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New ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee meets the elephant in the room

August 1, 2010 |  1:04 pm

Paul lee Even before newly named ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee took the stage Sunday morning to address the nation's television critics, the network tackled the "elephant in the room."

The former head of ABC Family was elevated to the post Friday, following the abrupt departure Tuesday of former ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson. Kevin Brockman, ABC's executive vice president of communications, hauled a giant pink stuffed elephant to the lectern -- eliciting laughter as he sought to head off more serious questions about the reasons behind the executive shuffle. No one from ABC would discuss the matter beyond the statement issued immediately after the executive's exit, he said.

"Tuesday's statement still holds. It is literally all we are going to say on the subject," Brockman said. "So, you may ask, but you will get the same answer."

Lee found himself discussing a fall schedule that his predecessor put in place.

"I've been on the job for all of 36 hours," Lee said. "I apologize if i don't have all the answers to all the questions."

Lee said he had seen all the new season's pilots and plans to go forward with the lineup already put in place, noting that "you can make more damage than good" by attempting a last-minute overhaul. The London-born Lee, who helped revitalize Disney's struggling ABC Family cable channel by appealing to the sensibilities of the millennial generation, finds himself now programming to the big-tent reach of a broadcast network.

Where he takes the network will be guided, in part, by the kind of rigorous research that helped Lee identify an audience for ABC Family -- teenage girls -- and begin creating shows that caught on with that demographic.

"I've spent my last six years trying to channel my inner American, my inner female teen -- which actually we had a lot of fun doing," Lee said. "I think you really have to do a lot of research to understand your audience if you're an outsider by demographic or country or age."

Lee said research will be informed by his own intuition about what works -- his "gut" --  as he searches for "brand-defining" hits for the network, whose audience expects smart storytelling that evokes powerful emotions. Lee's ability to find breakout hits such as "Kyle XY" and "The Secret Life of the American Teenager"  helped elevate ABC Family from obscurity.

It will take awhile before Lee's programing sensibilities reach the television screen at home.

--Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Angela Weiss / Getty Images