From Ray Richmond, who has been contributing to Deadline Hollywood’s TCA coverage:
You’d have figured that ABC News’ hiring in December of Ben Sherwood as its new president — replacing David Westin — would inspire the famed fangs of reporters and critics at TCA to come out. Here was a guy whose reputation one might charitably call “controversial.” He departed as head of Good Morning America in 2006 in a decided lack of glory, and has been out of the TV news business ever since, busy writing books like The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud. And his ascension to the big ABC News chair was met with a nasty propaganda video that found the new troops attacking their incoming boss mercilessly.
But the lion’s den turned out to be more a pussycat’s lair Monday morning in Pasadena as ABC’s day at the semi-annual TCA confab dawned. And part of that can likely be ascribed to the smooth performance of Sherwood himself. He eschewed the podium to stride the stage gracefully and forcefully and embodied the air of a guy in charge despite his having been on job less than a month. No one even thought to ask him what his qualifications were for such a high-profile post.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat the last year, it’s been very difficult,” Sherwood acknowledged right off the top. “But I feel we are turning the corner to more success.”
That would be a change of pace from a year when staff downsizing was the order of the day, it was pointed out to Sherwood. Will that be continuing on his watch? “I think the hard work was done by David,” he replied. “He made some very difficult and painful choices. I feel that work has been done, and its my mission going forward to make ABC News stronger and better while also keeping an eye on the math…There’s no plan (to continue the layoffs) of the past year. We have to become more successful as a news division and that’s my mission.”
It’s also Sherwood’s mission, he said, to get it accurate when breaking news comes. That’s why he said he was still feeling anxiety over one aspect of ABC News’ coverage of the shootings in Tucson on Saturday. For about 10 minutes that afternoon, he acknowledged, the ABC News website erroneously reported — quoting other news organizations — that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had died.
“For a brief moment it went onto our website, and then it came down,” Sherwood said. “It didn’t go on our broadcast airwaves, How did that happen? It hit me in the heart when I see what the Giffords family went through during the time it was being reported and a reminder that we have to get it right. I’m proud of how ABC handled the story on the broadcast side, but accuracy is what matters most.” He added, however, that it’s “premature to leap in and examine what may or may not have been the media’s role” in stoking the alleged shooter’s rage.
Sherwood also expressed support for Nightline and its continued life, that with “a new anchor team and a new strategy, it’s been able to survive and thrive. The Nightline folks have proven something many thought was impossible, and I think they’ll be rewarded for what they’ve done.”
At the same time, Sherwood himself did something Monday morning that many thought impossible. He emerged from his media bout without so much as a wrinkle on his tailored suit.