NEW YORK (AP) - Paul Lee, who as head of ABC Family invigorated the once-flagging cable channel, has been appointed president of the ABC Entertainment Group. His responsibilities include the ratings-challenged ABC broadcast network.
In his new role, Lee will oversee ABC Studios, as well as development, programming, marketing and scheduling operations for ABC Entertainment.
“Paul’s success at ABC Family is as amazing as it is indisputable, and I’m looking forward to his continued success on ABC,” said Disney-ABC Media Networks co-chairman Anne Sweeney in making the announcement Friday.
“ABC is a great network defined by creativity and known for delivering some of the best shows on television,” Lee said, adding he was honored to be chosen “for the unique opportunity to lead the network and the brand into the future.”
Lee had been thought the likely choice after Tuesday’s abrupt resignation of Stephen McPherson, who had held the job for six years.
Lee’s successor at ABC Family has not yet been named.
Lee arrived at ABC Family in 2004 with the challenge of turning around what had once been the Fox Family Channel, a puny cable outlet that had been bought by the Walt Disney Co. three years earlier for more than $5 billion with the idea of recycling shows already seen on ABC.
He gave a new, hip twist to the idea of “Family” in the channel’s name and branded the channel as “A New Kind of Family” while mounting an aggressive hunt for viewers in the 18-to-28 age group, a demographic he dubbed “millennials.”
His many successes in original programming include “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” “Greek” and “Pretty Little Liars.”
Under Lee, ABC Family enjoyed six years of consecutive growth, more than doubling its audience in the 18-to-34-year-old demographic. Last week, the network was the ninth-ranked ad-supported network among 18-to-34-year-old viewers all day and fifth-ranked during prime time, according to the Nielsen Co.
Now at ABC, he must pump life into a network that has slipped in the ratings in recent years, ending the 2009-2010 season in third place among the big four, only slightly ahead of NBC.
McPherson, Lee’s predecessor, had scored with high-profile series like “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” as well as “Dancing with the Stars,” which beat Fox’s powerful “American Idol” certain nights last spring.
But lately many of ABC’s biggest hits have begun to lose steam or have ended their run. A bold experiment to launch four back-to-back comedies on Wednesday last fall paid off, with “Modern Family” a breakout hit. But the network has had trouble getting new dramas off the ground. Last season’s much-anticipated serial thriller “FlashForward” was a flop.
McPherson has left behind a slate of new shows with stars that include Matthew Perry, Michael Imperioli, Michael Chiklis and Dana Delany and such offbeat shows as the mock-documentary drama “My Generation” and “No Ordinary Family,” a comedy-drama about a family endowed with super powers.
Lee will be touting a fall schedule he inherited when he meets with reporters and critics on Sunday for ABC’s session at the Television Critics Association conference in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Before joining ABC Family, Lee was chief executive officer of BBC America and was responsible for the development and launch of the company in 1998.
And before that, Lee, who was born in London 50 years ago and holds a master’s degree in Modern Languages from Oxford University, had spent more than a decade at the BBC. There, he displayed versatility as an executive, news documentary maker and entertainment producer. He began as a reporter assigned to conflict-plagued Belfast, Northern Ireland.
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.
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