Ben Sherwood on Choosing a Successor, Paul Lee’s ABC Fate and the ‘Rising’ Sky for Traditional Media

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Sherwood lays out top priorities

Ben Sherwood, just named co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group, says he expects ABC entertainment president Paul Lee to remain at ABC, and believes “the sky is rising” for traditional media.

“I’ve been on the job for all of a couple hours and know what I have read and seen, which is that Paul has signed up for — he’s signed up and he’s here to stay,” Sherwood told TheWrap.

Also read: Meet Ben Sherwood: His Meteoric Rise Since Re-Joining ABC

Sherwood, the president of ABC News, was named Monday to replace Anne Sweeney beginning in February in the co-chairman and presidential role. He remains hands-on at his current job: He spoke to TheWrap Monday while on the run to ABC News’ regular 3 p.m. news meeting.

Sherwood said that when he interviewed for the new job, Disney CEO Bob Iger said he didn’t agree with pundits who think “the sky is falling” for traditional media.

Also read: Ben Sherwood to Replace Anne Sweeney at Disney

“It’s Bob’s view in the context of content, of distribution and of consumer choice that the sky is not falling, the sky is rising,” Sherwood said. “I share that view. I sort of think of that as an anthem for Disney/ABC. We need to be adaptable, we need to be very flexible, we need to be nimble as we think about the future of Disney/ABC.”

Sherwood said his chief concerns for now are a smooth transition, learning from Sweeney, and choosing a successor at ABC News. He said that decision is “not for today.”

Also read: How Disney-ABC’s Swift Ben Sherwood Appointment Checks All the Boxes

“Anne Sweeney recruited me for this role a few years ago,” he said, referring to his ABC News job. “We worked very closely together over the last few years on a bunch of different initiatives. She’s been a great champion of news and our relationship is based on trust and respect, and that will prevail in the months ahead. She’s a great teacher. She comes from a family of educators, and I’m a very determined student. I’ve got a lot to learn about the many different parts of the business.”

Sherwood also says he plans to learn about his new responsibilities using “the skills of a journalist.” He also plans to take part in the pilot process, the May upfront presentation to advertisers, and budgeting. He said he would be at Sweeney’s side as she continues her duties until the handover next year. (She plans to eventually transition to a career in directing.)

Also read: The State of Disney: What Ben Sherwood Must Tackle

“I’ve got a lot of questions to ask, I’ve got a lot of listening to do, I’ve got a lot of learning and that’s what this transition period is going to be all about,” Sherman said.

Lee’s fate has been a question mark for weeks, and speculation about his future has been all over the map. There has been gossip that he could be fired because of ABC’s falling ratings. But when Sweeney announced her resignation, he was listed by most Hollywood news outlets, including TheWrap, as one of her possible successors. Instead, that role went to Sherwood, who rejoined ABC in 2010 after working previously as executive producer of “Good Morning America.”

Sherwood praised Lee as “a very talented executive.”

“He’s had a bunch of hits and I know he’s primed for more in the future and I’m excited about the possibilities of the upcoming development cycle and what the future holds,” he said.

As for potential ABC news successors, he said, “We’ve got a great bench at ABC News of very strong leaders.”