“US TV is engaged in a dramatic flight to quality”, thanks to the technological revolution and the huge expansion of outlets for television programmes, said one of the most powerful Brits in Hollywood, ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee.
“These disruptive technologies have not disrupted the shows themselves at all,” he continued. Instead, they mean that “viewers no longer have to settle for the least objectionable content”.
Twenty years ago, he said, the message from broadcast executives was: never overestimate the intelligence of the audience. Now it is: never underestimate the intelligence of the audience. “The hits are coming from sophisticated, smart storytelling,” he added.
Asked what travels well between the UK and US, Lee said: “There is a huge number of formats moving across [the Atlantic]. Successful UK formats carry a huge amount of [credibility] when they arrive.”
However, he warned: “There are still profound differences in comedy. Most great US comedies are deeply emotional.”
There are also cultural differences in the working environment that can trip up unsuspecting British producers.
“Working for a major US company is almost more foreign that working in Brazil,” said Lee. “The workplace rituals are totally different, which you have to learn. Pitching is highly ritualised.”
Lee’s three rules for succeeding in the US are:
- You have to come in through the system;
- Showrunners are absolutely critical – respect them;
- Choose your agent with great care.
There are very defined areas where the power shifts at certain times of year; there is a natural ebb and flow of power between broadcasters and producers.
Paul Lee was interviewed by Dan Brooke, chief marketing and communications officer at Channel 4, who also produced the session.
Report by Gordon Jamieson. Photo by Paul Hampartsoumian.