Anne Sweeney showed the stuff she's made of during her first press tour appearance in her new exalted mega-position of co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television.
Sweeney, a seasoned Disney executive, is one of those perfectly poised masters of corporate speak. The kind of woman you just know received training at an early age on the proper way to get out of a low-slung sports car in a short skirt and heels.
The executive who spent the previous eight years running all of Disney's non-sports cable networks opened ABC's two days at Summer TV Press Tour 2004 on Monday with one of her trademark shareholders' meeting speeches: "Cable or broadcast, I think the important thing to know is that the formula for success is really the same. It is about delivering strong and consistent creative and economic results. That's what I built my career on and that's what I'm bringing to this new opportunity."
On either side of Sweeney were two giant screens displaying the logos of the many Disney cable and broadcast networks now under Sweeney's watch. Just as Sweeney was getting to the good stuff -- "I started my career as a page in New York City and when I left for graduate school I had every intention of returning to ABC, but no one sent the note to ABC saying I was coming back, so I ended up starting my career at Nickelodeon and I have to tell you that it was really, personally as well as professionally, rewarding . . . " -- suddenly, on the big screens, up popped an episode from the first season of the FX plastic surgery drama "Nip/Tuck" -- which by the way, is not owned by Disney -- in which model Kimber Henry has tied Dr. Christian Troy to a bed and is sitting on top of him, dressed in a black lace bra and panties, brandishing a very, very large shiny dagger with which she appears ready to fillet him.
"Some of my new friends," Sweeney said, without missing a beat. "And none of them appearing on the Disney-ABC Television group of networks." Really, it was very impressive. And although we think there may be something to one critic's observation that the incident was "deeply symbolic of what a [Dick Cheney's word] mess ABC is" these days, we must admit it contributed mightily to our understanding of why Disney chief Michael Eisner and Eisner's chief yes-man, Robert Iger, decided in April that Sweeney was exactly the right person to head their sixth or seventh stab at figuring out how to fix the fourth-place network.
Critics couldn't wait to ask Steve McPherson, ABC's new entertainment division president, about Fox's piracy of the concept behind ABC's fall reality series "Wife Swap." ABC announced in May that "Wife Swap" would be on its fall lineup, after which Fox decided to rush "Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy" into its summer lineup. About the same time, NBC announced a new boxing reality series, "The Contender," for its fall lineup, after which Fox announced it's rushing the start of "The Next Great Champ."
It's interesting how critics, who for years have spit on reality as a genre, are now getting all sentimental about the sanctity of reality series concepts. Reality series piracy has become the big issue at Summer TV Press Tour 2004. Anyway, it was the first question lobbed at McPherson, who appeared before critics via satellite from his honeymoon in Paris.
"If I was a member of the creative community, it would be incredibly disconcerting to me that if you take a show, a pitch, into Fox and they can't, don't or decide not to buy it, they will steal it. I think it's really upsetting, I think it's bad for the business, I think it's bad for the broadcast network and I don't think it's right."
He said he didn't know if ABC planned to pursue legal action. Sweeney said she hadn't spoken to her legal department about it yet.
Critics also couldn't wait to ask McPherson the "CSI" Question. Before McPherson was named head of ABC's entertainment division, he ran Disney's television production outfit, Touchstone TV, and one of the shows he developed for ABC was "CSI." When the Mensa boys at ABC decided to take a pass on "CSI," McPherson sold it to CBS. After that the Mouseketeers at Disney decided it didn't make sense for them to pay to produce the show, and ABC now has no stake in one of the most successful television franchises in recent history. Critics wanted to hear his version of what happened.
"We developed it and put it on CBS. And, at the time, the company decided that, for financial reasons, it didn't make sense to continue to be a deficit entity on that. And the decision was made and we've moved on," he said, sitting in Paris with the Arc de Triomphe behind him.
"Did you agree with that decision at the time?" one critic asked.
"No," he responded. Then McPherson rolled his eyes, which, had he been there in person, nobody would have noticed. But because he was appearing via satellite on those two giant screens that played such an important role in Sweeney's opening speech, his head was about six feet high and his eyes about four feet across. It was as if you were visiting Mount Rushmore and George Washington suddenly rolled his eyes. And with that, we're just guessing, McPherson's honeymoon at ABC was probably over.
ABC News will offer gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Democratic and Republican conventions to all its TV stations to transmit over their digital television signal, ABC News President David Westin announced at Summer TV Press Tour 2004. Peter Jennings will anchor the convention coverage, which is available in about 80 percent of the country, though it's unclear how many homes actually have digital receivers.
"We've been talking with affiliates for about a year now about the possibility of this digital service going on," Westin told critics. "We're in the process of working out all the details and there will probably be further announcements coming out later."
Westin told critics the idea was Jennings's, which he came up with while flying back from Iraq.
"He showed up at my office first thing the next morning and said, 'Okay, this is what I want to do. I want to cover the conventions gavel-to-gavel and you figure out the best way to get that distributed. But I'll come in and I'll be the anchor and we'll have the ABC News team in and we'll do it the old-fashioned way.' "
The digital service will continue through the presidential election, Westin said.
ABC News will also provide the same coverage of the conventions on its 24-hour high-speed Web channel. Both CBS and NBC will also provide gavel-to-gavel coverage on their Web sites, cbsnews.com and msnbc.com. Meanwhile, it's business as usual for the ABC network as well as its broadcast competitors with regard to convention coverage. ABC, CBS and NBC have all put out news releases saying they plan to cover the Democratic convention in Boston in two weeks for just three hours: one hour on Monday, when former president Bill Clinton is scheduled to speak; one hour on Wednesday, when vice presidential choice John Edwards is scheduled to speak; and one hour on Thursday, when presumptive presidential nominee John Kerry is scheduled to speak. None of the three broadcast networks has plans to cover live the speech that will be delivered at that convention by Ron Reagan, younger son of the late president, the man the current administration most loves to compare itself to. Reagan's speech is expected to be delivered on Tuesday, though the party has not confirmed that.
All three networks have also said they plan to cover only three hours of the Republican convention in New York the week of Aug. 30, including one hour that Tuesday, when California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to speak, one hour on Wednesday to cover Vice President Cheney's speech and one hour on Thursday to cover President Bush's speech.
Paramount Domestic Television officially announced Monday that Pat O'Brien will host its new "Entertainment Tonight" spinoff "The Insider," set to debut Sept. 13.
The announcement comes a month after NBC Universal said it was replacing O'Brien as host of its tabloid show "Access Hollywood" with Billy Bush.
O'Brien told The TV Column in June that NBC was forced to announce his replacement as a "preemptive strike" because he was preparing to join the soon-to-be-rival "Insider." "Access Hollywood" executive producer Rob Silverstein countered days later in the trade publication TV Week that Bush was to be O'Brien's successor "sooner or later" and that O'Brien's expiring contract made the decision "inevitable."
Bush will debut as "Access Hollywood" co-anchor with Nancy O'Dell on Aug. 12 from the Summer Games in Athens.
NBC also announced Monday that it has renewed Silverstein's contract as "Access Hollywood" executive producer. He will remain with the show "well into the eight-year-old newsmagazine's second decade," according to a statement.