ABC Names Paul Lee to Head Entertainment

Exec Is Latest Cable Chief to Move to Broadcast

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NEW YORK ( -- Walt Disney will rely on a cable-network executive to boost performance at its ABC broadcast outlet. The company has installed Paul Lee, who has led an overhaul at its ABC Family channel, to take the reins as head of entertainment for the network that airs "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy."

Paul Lee
Paul Lee Credit: ABC
Mr. Lee's ascension comes after the sudden departure of former ABC Entertainment chief Stephen McPherson earlier this week.

No matter who is at the helm of its prime-time programming, ABC faces challenges heading into the 2010-2011 season. The network has seen its power to command audiences between 18 and 49 -- the audience typically coveted by advertisers -- shrink. While its coming schedule is bolstered with the aging "Housewives" and "Grey's," along with the sophomore outing of "Modern Family" and the "Dancing With the Stars" powerhouse, much else about ABC's offerings seems middling.

Mr. Lee has over six years turned the ABC Family channel from a decidedly second- or third-tier cable outlet into a dependable distributor of shows aimed at teens (and even their families). Under his aegis, the channel launched such properties as "Kyle XY," "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," "Pretty Little Liars," "Greek," "Make It or Break It" and "Huge."

In the past, TV networks have tapped executives from the creative community to run their entertainment ship, as NBC did when it enlisted Ben Silverman and as ABC did when it tapped Mr. McPherson. More recently, however, executives with cable experience, including NBC Universal entertainment chief Jeff Gaspin, have gotten more attention.

Cable networks, free from the longstanding but expensive ways of doing business that have crimped the operations of broadcast outlets, have proven able to launch durable franchises such as "Mad Men" or "The Closer." They often do so more cheaply, ordering fewer episodes of each show and keeping production values low.

Mr. McPherson was able to combine ABC Studios, the company's TV production arm, and ABC Entertainment, and Mr. Lee will have oversight of both operations as well.

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