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ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson resigns [Updated]

July 27, 2010 |  6:24 pm

MCPHERSON2

After a tumultuous six-year reign, ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson stepped down, the network said Tuesday. His contract had been set to expire in September 2011.

"Steve McPherson today submitted his resignation as president, ABC Entertainment Group, and the company accepted," ABC said in a statement. McPherson said, "I want to thank the wonderful team of individuals who have worked with me throughout my time here and wish them nothing but the best.”  A replacement for McPherson will be announced shortly, the network said.

[Updated at 6:57 p.m.: In a subsequent statement, McPherson said, "I will be announcing my future plans shortly, which will include a new entrepreneurial venture in the spirits business. ... I'll also reveal plans for my involvement in a new media company." McPherson's statement was released through veteran entertainment publicist Stan Rosenfeld, who had just been retained by the former ABC executive.]

The top contender for McPherson's job is Paul Lee, a former BBC America executive who is president of ABC Family, people close to the situation said. ABC Family, one of Disney's cable channels, has churned out a string of hits in the last three years including "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" and the new program "Pretty Little Liars."

The exit of McPherson comes less than two months before the start of the new TV season and just days before the network is going to promote its fall lineup to television critics at the semiannual Television Critics Press Tour.  Walt Disney Co.'s broadcast network has suffered declining ratings and ABC ended the most recent season tied for third place with hard-luck NBC among viewers ages 18 to 49, advertisers' preferred demographic. ABC averaged 8.7 million viewers a night in prime time, far behind CBS, which boasted an average 11.9 million viewers.

McPherson, who was instrumental in ABC's dramatic turnaround in 2004 by shaping such hits as "Desperate Housewives" and later "Grey's Anatomy," was unable to produce a stable of new hits to pick up the slack as those popular shows lost steam in the ratings. Not only that, but the hard-charging executive clashed with his bosses, most notably Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney ABC Television Group, and the constant management strife within the division produced a dysfunctional atmosphere that some said hampered creativity.

During the last season, McPherson launched a few new hits, most notably "Modern Family," but Disney will not be able to generate huge profit from "Modern Family" since it is produced by News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox Television studio and not ABC. 

McPherson had many fans in the creative community who are worried what his departure will mean for the network.

"Steve has been incredibly supportive of 'Modern Family'; it’s always scary for a show to have its biggest champion leave," said Steve Levitan, co-creator of the comedy. "Personally I will be sorry to see him go. “

"I'm just shocked," said Eileen Heisler, co-creator of ABC's sitcom "The Middle." "We've had a really good run with Steve," she said, adding his departure "would send the network into upheaval, which is always scary for everyone."

[Updated at 11:20 p.m.: For more, see the story on McPherson and ABC in Wednesday's Times.]

-- Meg James, Joe Flint and Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: ABC's Steve McPherson. Credit: ABC

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