On Steve McPherson

I’m really pissed off at Steve McPherson. I was so dearly looking
forward to writing this week about the socially important
and inspirational television experience that is Jersey Shore.

But then the outgoing ABC chief’s sudden
exit smacked me in the face like I mouthed
off to J-Woww. So, much like the scripts she
and her castmates follow, I had to react to
The Situation.

While the MTV guido-palooza is very
much en vogue right now, my thoughts on
McPherson probably won’t be. That’s because
I thought the guy had a pretty damned good
run at ABC, and I for one will miss covering
him in that role.

Let’s take the second part first: why I’m
sorry to see him go. It’s pretty simple; we all
know the guy is, um, passionate. But what I
like about him—as a journalist—is that he
actually has the guts to show it.

I have long bemoaned in this space how
television executives have gotten tragically
boring and conflict-averse in public.
McPherson was a throwback in that regard.
His most celebrated example, of course, was
when he said Ben Silverman should “be a
man” regarding his pal Kevin Reilly’s ouster
at NBC. In front of a gaggle of reporters. On
the record.

For a journalist, he was refreshing that
way. We’ve had our differences, and he still
likes to trash me every chance he gets for a
particular cover I ran as an editor that he
detested. But he does it to my face. When
he had a bone to pick, he would call or email,
not rip me behind my back as others
often do.

Yes, he did not suffer fools well, especially
in the press. And yes, he probably thought
the media (or the town) was out to get him
much more than it is (and that was before
last week’s rumors and allegations, still swirling
at presstime).

But he wasn't totally wrong. Once NBC and Silverman parted company, McPherson assumed the role of the exec people most loved to trash with tales of his temperament. Of course,
none of them had the guts to do it on the record,
as evidenced by the anonymous quotes
ripping him in the media coverage of his departure
from Disney. It’s fine if you want to
call McPherson an asshole, just have the guts to put your name next to it.

As for his run at ABC, outside of CBS’s steady
diet of hits, it is really hard to say that any
other network was much better on the scripted
side during his entire reign. You can get into
the minutiae of who was actually responsible
for the hits early in his tenure and whatever
else, but it’s hard to say he was much worse
than anyone else as the networks collectively
struggle to make massive hits.

Yes, ABC’s development looks pretty bad
this year. Suffering through drama pilot My
actually made me want to sue
ABC to get 45 minutes of my life back, as the
only thing that would have made it more derivative
is if there was a three-judge panel on
the side commenting on the terrible show.
But as our recent critics’ roundtable showed,
it doesn’t look like any of the networks exactly
killed it this year.

That said, it’s not a rip-roaring shock
that McPherson is out, as his departure was
considered by many to be an inevitability
at some point. His rocky relationship with
his boss, Anne Sweeney, was not a huge secret, and the sell-by date on all network
presidents comes around at some point.
Still, the timing of his departure obviously
caught a lot of people—including many
of the ABC affiliates—off guard.

Whatever people say about Steve McPherson,
to his face or behind the spineless veil
of blind quotes, he is talented and no one
doubts his passion. His inability or unwillingness
to fi lter the latter undoubtedly did
him in. But statements about his wine business
aside, he won’t be squeezing grapes for
the rest of his life; he’ll resurface soon.

It’s just too bad it won’t be as a broadcast
network chief. Because it was a fun, often
acerbic, old-school—and ultimately successful—
ride for a journalist to cover.

Editors note: updated at 11:30 am PT to reflect change in characterization of Ben Silverman's departure from NBC.