Management shakeup at struggling ABC

/ Source: The Associated Press

Walt Disney Co. shook up the management team at its fourth-place ABC television network Tuesday, promoting two rising stars and firing its top two programmers after only two years on the job.

Disney, which owns ABC, elevated ESPN and ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer and ABC cable networks President Anne Sweeney as co-chairs of its media networks division.

Gone are ABC entertainment President Susan Lyne, who had been expected to remain, and Lloyd Braun, who served as chairman of the ABC Entertainment Television Group.

Braun and Lyne were appointed in 2002 and charged with resurrecting the ailing network, which collapsed after the ratings failure of its game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

The two struggled to find hit dramas and had only mild success developing a slate of new sitcoms.

Steve McPherson, who was president of Touchstone Television, was named to the new post of president ABC prime time entertainment.

ABC-owned Touchstone produces many of the network’s prime-time shows, including “Alias” and “Hope and Faith,” and “Scrubs” for NBC.

McPherson has less than a month to finish setting the network’s prime-time fall schedule, which will be presented to advertisers in May.

ABC is firmly ensconced as the fourth-place network this season, behind CBS, NBC and Fox. It is averaging 9.2 million viewers in prime time, down from 10.1 million viewers last season, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The network is also the chief thorn in the sides of Disney chief executive Michael Eisner and chief operating officer Robert Iger, who have pledged to shareholders to make a turnaround at ABC their top priority.

Luckless ABC got off on the wrong foot this season when John Ritter, star of “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teen-Age Daughter,” died just before the season started. The network’s strategy of building with comedies has failed because none has become a hit.

Its management structure has been criticized because of micromanaging by Eisner and Iger. Reportedly, a chance to get “The Apprentice” fell through because ABC couldn’t get all its managers to agree on it.

Last week, ABC had only two scripted shows among Nielsen’s 40 most popular programs: “The Practice,” which is going off the air after this season, and “NYPD Blue.”

Its most successful shows this season have been “The Bachelor” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”