ABC Family's Paul Lee Taking Over ABC Entertainment Group After President Steve McPherson Resigns

By Nikki Finke, Nellie Andreeva

4TH UPDATE 6:30 PM: We’ve just confirmed that ABC Family President Paul Lee will take over as president of ABC Entertainment Group. Just like Steve McPherson, Lee will manage both ABC Entertainment and ABC Studios. “Paul Lee has had incredible success for the last 6 years and has built the ABC Family brand from scratch,” a Disney insider praised. Interesting how this all went down before the Television Critics Association’s upcoming executive sessions this week. Lee’s promotion has been imminent because of his success with original programming on the cable channel that “had a fuddy-duddy image” and was saddled with that preacher” — since Pat Robertson still controls several hours of programming time on the channel, the insider noted. “Paul made it a destination place for young and hip people.”

Like McPherson, Lee started his job as president of ABC Family in 2004 when both were appointed as part of a big restructuring across Disney’s TV divisions. Since then, the cable channel has posted six years of consecutive growth and has launched its first runaway hit, The Secret Life of American Teenager. ABC Family’s roster of shows developed under Lee’s watch also includes the channel’s first buzzworthy drama Kyle XY, established series Greek and Make It or Break It, recent additions Pretty Little Liars and Huge and the upcoming Melissa Joan Hart-Joey Lawrence comedy Melissa & Joey. Before joining ABC Family, Lee was CEO and founder of BBC America. Prior to that, Brit Lee spent several years at the BBC, including serving as channel editor for BBC Prime, the company’s 24-hour entertainment channel.

3RD UPDATE 6:20 PM: We just received this statement from Steve McPherson about his future plans:

“I’ll be announcing my future plans shortly which will include a new entrepreneurial venture in the spirits business.  While I will continue with my ongoing wine business, I’ll also reveal plans for my involvement in a new media company.”

2ND UPDATE 6:00 PM: Sources are telling the media that ABC Family’s Paul Lee is in as ABC Entertainment topper. He’s certainly well thought-of and his promotion in some capacity has been imminent. But there is no official confirmation of this yet. Meanwhile, here is Disney/ABC’s  statement:

Steve McPherson today submitted his resignation as President, ABC Entertainment Group, and the Company accepted.  Mr. 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 Mr. McPherson will be announced shortly.

EXCLUSIVE UPDATE 5:10 PM: Steve McPherson has resigned. The ABC Entertainment Group president of both ABC network and ABC Studios has been in the job since January 2009 after overseeing ABC Entertainment since 2004. Our understanding is that there is no immediate replacement. McPherson came back from vacation Monday but did not resume his ABC duties. He is now referrng calls to his newly hired publicist.

He had a little over a year left on his contract which expires in September 2011. His last negotiation was rife with rumors that he would resign if he were not given Touchstone (aka ABC Studios) which was then run by Mark Pedowitz, who found himself ultimately moved aside because of McPherson’s manuevering.

To put it mildly, McPherson has been one of the most controversial network entertainment executives to fill the job. That’s mostly because of his lack of interpersonal skills. It’s no exaggeration to say he has spent a good deal of his tenure pissing off a lot of people, both internally like his boss Anne Sweeney (the president of Disney/ABC Television Group) and externally (like showrunners, agents, managers, etc.) But what kept him in the job was that he was considered creatively talented. However, under his watch, ABC has failed to launch a tentpole drama to succeed the departing Lost or the aging Desperate Housewives. After years of trying, he did find success on the comedy side this past season with Modern Family; however it’s a show produced by 20th Century Fox Television and not by ABC Studios.

EXCLUSIVE 4:45 PM: Deadline has just heard “something’s going on” involving ABC Entertainment Group President Steve McPherson who has been the subject of rumors for many months now. McPherson had been on vacation for several weeks and hasn’t yet returned. More when we get it.

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