ABC News president Ben Sherwood cemented his status as Disney’s golden TV boy as he has been appointed a successor to Anne Sweeney. Sherwood will assume the title of co-chairman, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group on February 1, 2015, a day after Sweeney ends her 10-year run in the same post. ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee is expected to finalize a new multi-year contract, ensuring the network’s stability at the top heading into next month’s upfronts. Sherwood’s appointment comes after a short search, with the news wiz considered an early frontrunner as Disney again looked within ranks for the next top executive hire.
Sherwood will begin the transition as Co-President, Disney/ABC Television Group alongside Sweeney immediately, while also continuing to oversee ABC News until a successor is named. “Ben is one of those unique executives who combine rich creative experience with great business acumen,” Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said. “He’s also focused, strategic, and competitive, as evidenced by the success of GMA, the Yahoo deal that delivered ABC News online dominance, and his vision behind our new cable and digital joint venture, Fusion. These reasons, and many others, make Ben the ideal candidate to oversee the future of the Disney/ABC Television Group.”
While Sherwood’s career trajectory resembles that of Jeff Zucker, who also transitioned from the No. 1 morning program, Today, to running NBC (they both also went to Harvard), observers point out that Sherwood also has entertainment experience. He took a break from the news business and became a best-selling author, with his novel The Death And Life Of Charlie St. Cloud turned into a studio feature. Still, it was Sherwood’s accomplishments as head of the ABC News division that propelled him to the reins of Disney’s entire non-sports TV portfolio. Among them is leading Good Morning America to No. 1, brokering a successful online partnership with Yahoo to and launching Fusion, a joint venture news and lifestyle network with Univision. “Over the years, he has moved from success-to-success, and helped create a more vibrant, collaborative and powerful news division that embraces innovation and risk-taking,” Sweeney said. “Ben’s now set to bring those same attributes to bear for the larger group, and I could not be more thrilled. This announcement simply highlights the fact that our talent and succession planning process works.”
While ABC has been struggling in the ratings and is poised to finish another season as No. 4 in adults 18-49, it has had a solid new drama in Resurrection this midseason, and I hear Disney brass are so far very encouraged by the network’s pilot slate for next season. Additionally, Lee, an unassuming British guy known for his analytical skills, is well-liked by Iger, in addition to Sweeney who put him in charge of ABC Family and then ABC. Lee had been in the running for the big Disney-ABC TV Group job and is believed to have higher ambitions but observers note that he also is the type of executive who wants to see things through and believes that he still has some unfinished business at ABC. Additionally, with Sherwood a relative primetime novice, having someone like Lee with institutional knowledge of ABC Entertainment would make for a smoother transition.