Kate Juergens, the executive behind ABC Family‘s defining original programming including Pretty Little Liars, The Secret Life Of The American Teenager, Switched At Birth and The Fosters, is exiting her post as Chief Creative Officer and EVP Original Content. The move was announced today via a staff memo from ABC Family President Tom Ascheim (read it below). He said her departure will result in a restructuring at the Disney cable network that includes the exit of SVP Acquisitions and Scheduling Lynn Stepanian, the odd person out in a new plan to combine Business Strategy, Planning & Development and Scheduling & Acquisitions under one roof and one leader. Both Juergens and Stepanian are departing later this week, and a search is underway for the new position.
Juergens was Michael Riley’s No. 2 until his departure in September as ABC Family president. She was tipped to be a front-runner for the top job, much as she was in the mix as the top development executive when Paul Lee left as network president in 2010 — she did not make a play for the post then. Ascheim, a former Nickelodeon GM and CEO of Newsweek, eventually was hired in December after a search led by Anne Sweeney, then co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group (Sweeney reportedly searched for an executive with a strong business background).
Juergens said in her own memo to staff today that she began discussions about leaving the network “several months ago.” Ascheim asked her to stay through pilot season, which originally included pickups for three drama pilots; one, Alice In Arabia, about an American teenage girl kidnapped by her extended royal Saudi Arabian family and forced to live with them, was pulled four days after it was announced amid pressure from a Muslim advocacy group.
Stepanian was hired by Riley for her current post in June 2012 from TV Guide Network. In her role she was responsible for off-network series and feature acquisitions as well as overseeing the strategic scheduling of all on-air linear content and longform video.
Here’s Ascheim’s memo, followed by one from Juergens:
I wanted to let you know about some changes that are happening in our shop. A few months ago, Kate came to talk to me about her future and what she was feeling excited about. Ultimately, she felt that she needed to make a change. She has been here for over ten years and has accomplished much. She has also seen a lot of transition and had decided that she was ready to explore something new. I was disappointed but really understand anyone’s yen for a change of scene. I asked her to please stay on through pilot season and the summer launches and she graciously agreed. Kate just handed me our pilots – her best work she thinks – and so having fulfilled her promise it’s time to let her go and explore.
I want to acknowledge Kate’s tremendous contributions to our network. She steered the team that helped create our brand-defining original programming including “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” “Pretty Little Liars,” “Switched at Birth,” “The Fosters” and most recently, “Chasing Life.“ These shows have put our mark on the cultural zeitgeist — a legacy of which any of us should be proud.
Kate’s departure is one of two significant organizational changes in our world. The second shift is based on my reviewing our structure, goals and needs for the past six months. I’ve decided to combine Business Strategy, Planning & Development and Scheduling & Acquisitions under one roof and one leader. I think this blend will make us most ready to take on the challenges of our evermore complex universe. Unfortunately this reorganization means that Lynn Stepanian will be leaving us as we eliminate her position. Lynn has always given us her very best and I wish her all the enormous success she deserves. I will be announcing a new leader for this department in the near future. We will also begin to look for Kate’s replacement and I will be back to you with news as we have it.
I know change is hard, and changes in the people that work here are the hardest. However, I remain ever more confident in our future, in no small part because of how skillful and smart all of you are. I hope you will join me in wishing Kate and Lynn well and in helping their teams through this transition and into our new future. My door is (almost) always open. Come by if you have questions or just want to talk.
Here’s Jeurgens’ memo:
I know that you’ve already heard from Tom on this, but I wanted to reach out to you directly as well. Several months ago, I spoke to Tom about my decision to move on from ABC Family. At that time, he was relatively new in his role, and while he understood my decision, he asked if I’d stay on through our pilot process and the launch of our summer series. I didn’t want to leave him, or any of you, in the lurch, so I agreed. And here we now are…pilots delivered and series launched. I’m sorry to have had to keep this from you all this time, but I didn’t want any of you to worry or be distracted. You are all too good at your jobs. What we’ve been able to accomplish, from the channel-defining success of Secret Life of the American Teenager to the social media sensation of Pretty little Liars to the ground breaking The Fosters is something of which all of we should be incredibly proud. And I think our just-delivered pilots are some of our best development ever.
Please know that this decision was not arrived at lightly, nor was it done without a lot of soul-searching. But in the end, it was just the right thing for me. And you know, when I make a decision, that’s pretty much that.
Take care. I’ll be rooting for you, and for ABC Family.