Shakeup In ABC ‘Family’
Affiliates caught off guard by McPherson departure
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/2/2010 12:01:00 AM
“I had no idea it was coming,” says WCPO Cincinnati VP/General Manager Bill Fee, who runs one of the top-rated ABC affi liates in the country. “We’d seen wind in our sails recently with some good, solid, family-oriented programming, which plays well here. If there’s change at the top of the network, it’s of concern to us.”
McPherson issued a resignation letter July 27. An e-mail advisory from the network went to affiliates later that day, though many said they did not learn the news until they read it in the media the next morning. (“Thank God for a free press,” said one general manager who learned of McPherson’s departure on www.broadcastingcable.com.)
McPherson’s resignation coincided with the start of the annual TCA Summer Press Tour, and landed just five days before ABC was to present its new slate to the nation’s most infl uential television critics in Los Angeles— a slate hatched by McPherson himself. At presstime, ABC Family President Paul Lee was expected to replace McPherson.
“The timing leaves a bunch of questions,” grouses one GM at a midsize ABC affi liate in the Midwest who asked not to be named.
The affiliates largely credit McPherson for jump-starting ABC’s wheezing primetime when he took over the presidency in 2004; dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy, Lost and Desperate Housewives became hits and even pop-culture touchstones. One affi liate calls McPherson a “rock star,” and another labels him the “brainchild” of ABC’s prime turnaround. “I tip my cap to the creative efforts he made,” says ABC affiliates board chairman Bill Hoffman, who heads up Cox’s WSB Atlanta. “He served the affiliates group well during his tour of duty.”
More recently, McPherson hatched ABC’s Wednesday comedy block, The Middle, Modern Family and Cougar Town, at a time when the sitcom genre was flatlining. Several affiliates single out Modern Family for being fresh, funny and, most important, particularly popular with viewers in their markets. “He’s done a great job programming the last few years,” says WBMA Birmingham President/General Manager Mike Murphy. “He brought energy and some new and exciting programs to the table; I think most all ABC affiliates are very pleased with the job he’s done.”
But despite McPherson’s successes, ABC’s cornerstone dramas are getting old, and the last hour of prime remains a gaping concern for affiliates, which rely on that hour to serve up maximum viewers for their lucrative late local news. The issue was Topic A when 175 affiliates met in Las Vegas in May. “We continue to be concerned about the last hour of prime, which is particularly important for a station like ours with strong local news,” says KMBC Kansas City President/ General Manager Wayne Godsey, whose station is also among the top ABC affiliates. “We’ve been partners with the network for a long time, and hope to continue being partners for a long time. We trust them to fix this.”
Getting to know Lee
Lee is largely an unknown quantity among executives at ABC-affiliated stations. But most express their trust in Disney Media Networks Co-Chair/Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney tapping the right person, and believe it is too close to the fall season for McPherson’s near-term strategy to be overhauled.
Most seem willing to give the incoming entertainment chief the benefit of the doubt, and will keep their fingers crossed as September approaches. “I hope ABC continues to be aggressive,” says WTEN Albany General Sales Manager Ron Romines, “and keeps moving the new stuff forward.”
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