Paul Lee a Done Deal at ABC; to Take on TCA Solo (updated)

ABC Family Channel chief has been named president of ABC Entertainment Group following McPherson’s resignation; will be formally introduced Sunday morning at TCA

UPDATE: Paul Lee won't have to wait very long to conduct his first TCA executive session as ABC Entertainment president.

According to the network, the former ABC Family Channel chief will fly solo during Alphabet Channel's morning exec session Sunday at the Beverly Hilton.

The session was originally scheduled for 11:30 a.m., but that, of course, was four days ago, when Steve McPherson — who resigned abruptly on Tuesday as ABC entertainment chief — was still on the docket.


Though it's taken a back seat to reports of sexual harassment by his predecessor, ABC finally announced Friday what has been common knowledge for almost a week: Paul Lee, president of the ABC Family Channel, will replace Steve McPherson as president of ABC Entertainment Group

McPherson resigned suddenly late Tuesday afternoon, after a mostly successful but contentious six-year run.

In his new role, Lee has oversight of all creative and business operations for ABC Studios, as well as all development, programming, marketing and scheduling operations for ABC Entertainment.

“Paul was hired six years ago because of his great creative instincts and his ability to identify an audience and develop programming that resonates with them, and those same strengths are why he was tapped for this new responsibility," Anne Sweeney, co-chairman of Disney/ABC Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group, said in a statement.

"Paul’s success at ABC Family is as amazing as it is indisputable, and I’m looking forward to his continued success on ABC,” Sweeney added.

McPherson's resignation was not unexpected, though the timing was. It came on the eve of the summer Television Critics Association press tour, which kicked off on Wednesday morning.

But also on Wednesday, reports surfaced that the resignation came as the network was investigating sexual harassment claims against him by several female executives.

Citing a source it did not name, the Hollywood Reporter claimed multiple harassment complaints were leveled against the six-year entertainment chief, and that the network was three weeks into an investigation.

On Thursday, McPherson attorney Marty Singer sent a letter to the Reporter, demanding a retraction and an apology, implying legal action.

(For more on this, see accompanying story: "McPherson Attorney Wants Retraction, Apology From THR."

In his resignation statement, McPherson said he was leaving for "a new entrepreneurial venture in the spirits business," along with involvement in "a new media company."

Lee will replace McPherson in the dual roles overseeing both ABC Entertainment and Studios.

“I’m proud of everything we achieved at ABC Family, and I’m looking forward to working with another great team at ABC Entertainment Group to bring even more compelling stories to viewers," he said in a statement. "ABC is a great network defined by creativity and known for delivering some of the best shows on television. I’m excited to be part of it, and deeply honored to be chosen for the unique opportunity to lead the network and the brand into the future.”

A one-time BBC reporter stationed in Belfast, Lee arrived at ABC Family in 2004, after launching BBC America with a series of dramas like “State of Play” and “MI-5,” as well as the original British versions of “The Office” and “Changing Rooms,” both of were successfully remade into American shows.

Under his tutelage, ABC Family has shown six years of consecutive growth by going after what he has called "the millenials" — the 14- to 28-year-olds, as opposed to the younger "Hannah Montana" tween audience. Targeting that demo, he launched a series of successful shows like “Greek,” "Kyle XY," “Make It or Break It” and “The Secret Life of an American Teenager.”

Two new shows this summer — "Pretty Little Liars," based on the young adult book series, and "Huge” – broke ratings records for the network.

Next up is comedy "Melissa & Joey," starring Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence, due to premiere in August.

Lee brought an aggressive strategy at ABC Family toward acquiring theatrical movies and producing original films targeting family audiences. And he's been active in pushing for creativity on the ABC Family website. In 2007, the network won the Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Television for the alternative reality game created to support the network's mini-series "Fallen."

He also started selling ABC Family shows abroad, with "Greek," "Make it or Break It," and "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," being sold internationally.

McPherson had served as ABC Entertainment president since 2004, where he gestated hits including "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives." He moved into the rather expansive dual role in January 2009, where he notably hadn't been able to create dramatic replacements for the departed "Lost" or aging "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives."

His recent efforts included "FlashForward," which was canceled after one season despite early buzz, and "Happy Town," which only lasted three episodes.

But TheWrap also reported on Tuesday that McPherson's problems at the network were not over ratings but "interpersonal."

Aside from the harassment reports, an executive close to the situation said McPherson was known for often bumping heads in the creative community and within ABC.

Notably, he was known to have clashed often with Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks and President of ABC-Disney Television Group, in recent years.