ABC Boss Tackles ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ Criticism and ‘Bachelor’ Diversity

TCA 2015: Paul Lee also says that another singing competition probably isn’t in the network’s near future

ABC/Kevin Foley

ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee found himself in the unique position of defending his network’s comedy “Fresh Off the Boat” from criticism lobbed at it by the man who inspired the series at the Television Critics Association press tour on Wednesday.

Lee took to the stage at the press tour a day after Vulture published an article by Eddie Huang, whose memoir the show is based on, in which Huang took exception, at length, to the way that the network had adapted his story.

Naturally, the topic came up during his executive session during the press tour.

“We love Eddie, he’s a firebrand. That’s one of the reasons why we did the show,” Lee noted, before adding: “It’s a comedy and the show itself is not a documentary of his book. That being said, it’s a fantastic comedy.”

The topic of diversity also loomed large during the panel, with Lee touting the importance of America’s changing demographics and Lee stressing that ABC strives to be a network that’s “reflecting America” in its programming. (“Fresh Off the Boat,” about an Asian family in the 1990s, would be an example of that goal.) Nonetheless, Lee noted, he’s not interested in diversity for diversity’s sake.

“We didn’t pick up these shows because they were diverse, we picked them up because they were great,” Lee said. “I’m going to pick up the best shows, I’m not going to pick up shows that will help me make a bullet point [about diversity].”

One area where Lee admitted that ABC could stand to be more diverse: The reality show the “The Bachelor,” which hasn’t exactly produced a rainbow coalition of contestants. Lee suggested that the show will diversify over coming seasons.

“You are going to see diversity as we go through that,” Lee noted. “[Current bachelor] Chris the Farmer is not but I’m sure many of the future guys are going to be.”

Lee was also quizzed about ABC’s inability to launch a hit singing competition. While he touted the strength of “Dancing with the Stars” and said that the network will probably announce some “really cool” developments on the reality TV front in the coming weeks, a singing competition will most likely not be among them.

“I don’t think we’ll try that for a little bit,” Lee told TheWrap.

The topic of Shonda Rhimes — a hitmaking powerhouse for the network — was also brought up. Given Rhimes’ reputation as a creator who “doesn’t take notes,” is ABC inclined to give its showrunners a loose creative rein?

“Don’t forget I’m an ex-showrunner, writer, director, so I know what it’s like to take notes,” Lee offered. “We were very, very proud about how focused we are, how disciplined we are, and also how minimalist we are about the notes that we give.”