ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson quits

SEE YA: ABC's Stephen McPherson, grinning and bearing it.
SEE YA: ABC's Stephen McPherson, grinning and bearing it. (Donna Svennevik/abc Via Associated Press)
By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, July 28, 2010


ABC entertainment chief Stephen McPherson totally upstaged everyone coming to Summer TV Press Tour 2010 this week and next when he up and quit Tuesday.

On the bright side, McPherson really, really hated coming to the press tour -- he was scheduled to appear in front of TV critics Sunday, and his Q&A session was always one of the highlights of the tour because he really, really hated taking questions from the press -- and sometimes it seemed touch-and-go whether the thing would get physical. We will miss him greatly.

"Steve McPherson today submitted his resignation as President, ABC Entertainment Group, and the Company accepted," ABC said in a press statement late Tuesday, which is so Disney of them.

McPherson did them one better, making a statement saying, "I want to thank the wonderful team of individuals who have worked with me throughout my time here and wish them nothing but the best."

The announcement triggered an orgy of press ruminations about how McPherson's six-year gig -- his contract was set to expire in September 2011 -- was marked more for its volatility than its hits. Those were mostly written by people who don't remember the time when the TV industry was filled with colorful characters instead of the bean counters and yes men who populate it these days.

Oh, and regarding that no-hits point: When McPherson took over in April '04, the network had been "mired in fourth place" for so long that even its publicists were making cracks about it. And the stories of how the network ran "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" into the ground by using it to plug all the holes in its prime-time schedule were the stuff of industry legend. Under his watch, ABC put on the air "Lost," "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives," "Dancing With the Stars" and, recently, "Modern Family," about the only hit this past season.

All those drama series were gimongous hits out of the gate, and did very well with younger viewers. The problem is they are/were all heavily serialized dramas, which (a) do not repeat well and (b) tend to flame very bright and burn out faster than, say, CBS's meat-and-potatoes crime procedurals.

On Sunday, McPherson was going to talk to the press about his lineup for the new TV season, which includes a new comedy starring Matthew Perry and Allison Janney; new dramas starring Michael Imperioli, Dana Delany and Michael Chiklis; and a new docu-reality series in which morbidly obese people are documented trying to lose hundreds of pounds over the course of a year.

And while we're at it, McPherson also gets credit for "CSI: The Mothership." That show was developed at ABC parent Disney when McPherson headed its TV production operation, then called Touchstone. But the big cheeses at ABC at the time decided they didn't want "CSI," and suits at Disney decided they couldn't make enough money off it domestically and internationally after it was sold to CBS -- so the studio bailed on it and CBS is now overseeing production of the show. Some of these same people might still be around, in which case they might get to decide who will be McPherson's successor -- presumed to be Paul Lee, whom you might remember as the first head of BBC America, based in the Washington area, but who most recently has been tearing up the cable-niche ratings as head of ABC Family.

Several stories about McPherson's exit noted that the network finished the just-wrapped 2009-10 TV season in third place with not even 200,000 more viewers than the new perennially mired-in-fourth-place network, NBC. Those stories do not mention that NBC had an Olympics cycle during that TV season, which clocked some of the biggest TV audiences in recorded history.

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