ABC Sports President Howard Katz has been shown the door and ESPN President George Bodenheimer will absorb ABC Sports into his magical kingdom.
The change was announced yesterday afternoon by Bob Iger, who is president and COO of Disney (ABC and ESPN's parent company) and by ABC Television President Alex Wallau.
They said Katz had resigned from the Mouse House "to pursue other interests." That's effective March 14.
Bodenheimer will become president of ABC Sports in addition to his duties as president of ESPN. The two operations will continue to be run as separate entities, the company said.
Iger said in a statement that the move would "enhance the overall efficiency and effectiveness at both TV sports operations and, in particular, in our dealings with sports leagues and other rights sellers."
Iger lavished praise and sports metaphors on low-key Katz, calling him "a tremendous force for television sports excellence at both ABC and ESPN" and adding that all the Disney Mouseketeers "wish Howard much continued success as he moves on to new playing fields."
Katz said in a statement that he couldn't be prouder of what he's accomplished since he returned to ABC Sports from ESPN four years ago.
Katz was named president of ABC Sports in March 1999. Under his leadership, ABC Sports acquired or renewed the television rights to the NBA, the Indianapolis 500 and the Indy Racing League, the British Open, the PGA Tour and the Little League World Series. Additionally, the contract to televise the college football Bowl Championship Series was extended, the Big East Conference college football was added, and the Big 12 Conference contract was extended. Katz is also credited with signing John Madden to "Monday Night Football" and with creating the first prime-time golf match, between Tiger Woods and David Duval, in August 1999. Is it any wonder he had to go?
Bodenheimer joined ESPN in 1981 and was named president in October 1998. Since that time, ESPN's empire has grown to more than 40 entities. Disney said in its announcement that Bodenheimer "set the strategy for the Walt Disney Co.'s successful acquisition of the NBA" broadcast rights and negotiated a multimedia agreement with the league, making ESPN the first network in history to own television rights to all four major professional leagues at the same time.
NBC, the network that used to broadcast the Screen Actors Guild Awards, will stick it to the trophy show Sunday. At 8 p.m. -- the same time TNT is just beginning its telecast of the awards ceremony, at which the musical flick "Chicago" is expected to mop up -- NBC-owned Bravo will begin its telecast of a new episode of "Inside the Actors Studio" devoted entirely to Renee Zellweger -- star of "Chicago." And if that weren't bad enough, "Chicago" producer Martin Richards will be a special guest on "Inside the Actors Studio" to "share his joy in seeing Renee Zellweger bring his 27-year dream to fruition." Plus, there will be behind-the-scenes clips from the making of the film.
ABC suits attempted to distract reporters from the network's fourth-place finish in the February sweeps by making a slew of scheduling announcements.
So stunning, for instance, was news that ABC had picked up all of its freshman sitcoms for next season (despite their recent ratings) that comments from ABC Entertainment Group Chairman Lloyd Braun -- like "I'll take a 30 percent improvement and fourth place over first place and 7 percent improvement any day" -- went virtually unchallenged.
Yes, ABC has picked up "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter," "Less Than Perfect" and "Life With Bonnie," in addition to "George Lopez," "According to Jim" and "My Wife and Kids."
Network executives also announced they had picked up "Alias," which is the least they can do considering the way they squandered that show's post-Super Bowl broadcast. Braun said the early pickups mean those shows can get a head start hiring writers and additional cast members for next season.
The network also ordered yet another season of "America's Funniest Home Videos" and "The Bachelor." "NYPD Blue" already received its order for next season.
"The Drew Carey Show," which ABC earlier announced would return to the schedule on Friday night, has instead been put on ice until June 25 -- a full month after the TV season ends -- with 10 new episodes that are being written with summer in mind.
ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne said that will give the show "the boost it deserves."
Though "Drew" this season has been rejected by viewers on Mondays and Fridays, it "deserves" a boost nonetheless because a few seasons back, before Lyne was named programming chief, the Disney brain trust cut a shrewd deal to keep the Warner Bros. sitcom on the schedule through the 2003-04 TV season. In exchange for the extended order, Warner Bros. agreed to let ABC have the show, which this season is averaging a cable-esque 5.2 million viewers, for the bargain rate of about $3 million an episode. And yet Disney thinks the executive they need to get rid of is Howard Katz. Go figure.
Meanwhile, NBC deflected attention from its second-place sweeps finish among 18-to-49-year-olds with news that Tom Selleck, who did wonders for the network's "Friends" as Courteney Cox's love interest, has been signed to star in a sitcom for the network, playing a former baseball player. NBC also announced that Heather Locklear would star in a romantic comedy as a divorced mom whose kids do everything they can to keep her away from her ex.
UPN has finally announced the inevitable: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is over at the end of this season.
The show will wrap its seven-season run during the May sweeps. Series star Sarah Michelle Gellar already had said very publicly that she wasn't coming back after this season, which led to some very clever speculation that the show was toast. UPN is in talks with creator Joss Whedon about a possible "Buffy" spinoff.