With Steve McPherson out as President of ABC Entertainment, can the network’s beleaguered news division, which recently completed a deep round of cuts, breathe a little easier?
While the news divisions at CBS and NBC enjoy good relations with their corporate siblings and overlords (CBS’ Les Moonves and NBC’s Jeff Zucker routinely dole out accolades for the work of their news divisions), the friction between news and entertainment, and ABC News President David Westin and McPherson, was palpable. One insider described Westin and McPherson as “mortal enemies.”
“About the only thing [McPherson] ever tolerated was 20/20 and he barely tolerated that,” said an ABC News staffer.
Another noted that the only time they ever got a note of praise from McPherson was for a 2005 edition of the newsmagazine Primetime Live that dug into the illicit affair between then American Idol judge Paula Abdul and contestant Corey Clark. The special drew 13.8 million viewers.
One of McPherson’s frequent targets has been Nightline, a show that is seen inside the news division as a success story for managing a format shift in 2005. McPherson had tried repeatedly to move Jimmy Kimmel Live into the 11:35 p.m. slot that has been occupied for 30 years by Nightline. He made a run at the time slot as recently as last year when Conan O’Brien was poised to take over the Tonight Show from Jay Leno. At that time, according to reports, ABC Entertainment executives discussed moving Kimmel to 11:35 p.m. to directly compete with O’Brien, who they perceived as weaker competition than Leno, and David Letterman on CBS.
With McPherson gone, and ABC Family President Paul Lee poised to take the top job at ABC’s entertainment division, there was cautious optimism at ABC News that Lee, who started his TV career as a BBC journalist, might have more regard for news.
And while the news division faces an uncertain future in the wake of a 25% staff reduction and thinning in its executive ranks, one insider noted that McPherson’s exit “can’t be a bad thing.”