Disney Says ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson Resigns

Walt Disney Co. said Steve McPherson, president of its ABC Entertainment unit, has resigned less than two months before the network’s new television season begins.

A replacement for McPherson will be named shortly, Burbank, California-based Disney said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

ABC is adding six dramas to its schedule starting in September after “Lost,” the network’s fifth-highest-rated scripted show, concluded a six-year run in May. The network was the only major U.S. broadcaster whose total audience declined last season, and it’s also down among viewers aged 18 to 49, a group sought by advertisers, according to Nielsen Co.

“McPherson has had a couple of bad seasons,” Brad Adgate, director of research at New York-based advertising firm Horizon Media Inc, said in an interview. “He never got his footing back after the writers’ strike.”

The three-month walkout by the Writers Guild of America that ended in February 2008 idled scripted shows including “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” effectively curtailing the 2007-2008 television season.

Paul Lee, head of the ABC Family cable channel, is replacing McPherson, the Hollywood Reporter said, citing unnamed company insiders. No one has been hired yet, ABC spokesman Kevin Brockman said in an e-mail.

In a statement from his publicist, McPherson said he would announce plans that include an “entrepreneurial venture in the spirits business” and an “involvement in a new media company.”

The timing of the change is awkward for Disney, Adgate said. TV networks are meeting this week with critics in Beverly Hills, California, to preview their schedules for the season that starts in September. ABC plans to make its presentation on Aug. 1.

Comedy Block

Third among TV networks in prime-time audience, ABC plans to air new shows including “Body of Proof” starring Dana Delany and “Detroit 1-8-7,” about a mock-documentary crew that follows around homicide detectives. The network also picked up the comedy “Mr. Sunshine,” featuring Matthew Perry as manager of a San Diego sports arena.

McPherson established a block of comedy shows last TV season on Wednesday nights that includes three returning programs: “Modern Family,” “Cougar Town” and “The Middle.”

The network sold about $2.4 billion in ads ahead of the season that starts in September for its full-day schedule, with average prime-time rates rising 8 percent to 9 percent, a person with knowledge of the matter said on June 9. ABC sold 75 percent to 80 percent of its inventory, the person said.

By comparison NBC, last in prime-time viewers, sold about $2.5 billion in advertising, with rates rising about 7 percent, another person said on June 10. The network pre-sold about 70 percent of its prime-time inventory, that person said.

‘High-Pressure Job’

“This is a high pressure job where you get results the next day and millions of dollars are riding on the programming decisions you make,” Adgate said. “This is historically a very short-lived position. You’re always in a pressure-cooker.”

Disney, the world’s biggest media company, fell 12 cents to $34.28 yesterday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have climbed 6.3 percent this year.

Unlike its rivals, ABC doesn’t carry National Football League games, which provide some of TV’s biggest audiences and a platform to promote new shows, Adgate said. Monday Night Football airs on Disney’s ESPN cable network.

Without football, ABC relies more on entertainment programs for ratings, Adgate said.

“Sporting events have been on an upswing compared with entertainment shows,” Adgate said. “That’s partly why ESPN is the crown jewel of television at Disney, not ABC.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Andy Fixmer in Los Angeles at afixmer@bloomberg.net

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.