ABC refuses to address "pink elephant" of top executive's surprise resignation, while Matthew Perry turns self-discovery into comedy
But it was clear, minutes into newly hired ABC entertainment chief Paul Lee’s appearance Sunday before a couple hundred writers here at the TV Critics' press tour, that his first job today was to avoid any talk of the messy circumstances surrounding the departure of his predecessor, Stephen McPherson.
McPherson resigned from the job Tuesday, less than a week before the network would spend big money trying to promote its fall schedule to the nation’s TV critics, sparking buzz. Lee admitted he was hired just 36 hours before his first session with the press, as McPherson reportedly hired an attorney to combat rumors his departure was related to problems with his professional conduct at the company.
“I don’t want to talk about Steve,” said Lee, a native of Britain and former BBC America executive who also ran ABC Family for six years. Earlier he sidestepped questions by saying he was offered the job while on a family vacation, gushing about the opportunity to head one of the "premiere, iconic American storytelling brands" and pledging not to change a "locked and loaded" fall series lineup.
Lee’s deferral came not long after ABC began its press conferences Sunday with publicity head Kevin Brockman facing the crowd next to a thigh-high pink elephant doll, insisting they would make no additional comment on the biggest news story facing the network this week.
The average TV viewer may not care; McPherson was hardly a household name, even to people who might follow the business.
But former Friends star Matthew Perry joked during a press conference for his new comedy Mr. Sunshine about the uncertainty of seeing the network change leaders so abruptly -- noting the guy who told him when his show would air on ABC now wasn’t in the room on Sunday. On a day when the focus should be their new shows, many critics were buzzing instead about how ABC would avoid the pink elephant all day.
“It’s weird thing to have happen,” said Perry, who created Mr. Sunshine and got a call of reassurance from the network soon after news broke of the resignation. “Our hope is that Paul is the true fan of the show he says he is…and now I like his taste.”
Perry proved an engaging presence, though he was promoting a show originally scheduled to air months into the TV season, telling critics ”you can tell how successful (my) movies were from the fact that I’m here” in TV. He developed the idea for a comedy about a self-centered sports arena manager learning to care about others from his own life, writing the script with writing partners.
“Just pick up any newspaper from 1996,” he said when asked about his past, selfish life; Perry admitted a mid-90s addiction to Vicodin years ago and went to rehab. "It's small steps...like asking somebody how they are and then actually being interested in the answer. That's how far I've gotten."
Now surrounded by former co-stars from the West Wing, Las Vegas and Better Off Ted, Perry admitted Mr. Sunshine is return to his comedic comfort zone after some post-Friends exploration.“I showed up in a few dramas…and a lot of that was trying to get away from just being the ‘funny guy,’ “ he added. “But I realized life is just a lot better when you’re on a big hit TV show. I decided maybe I’ll try to be funny."