Monday’s announcement that ABC News president Ben Sherwood would step into Anne Sweeney’s role as the head of Disney’s sprawling television division goes a long way to silence critics of the company’s preparedness to go on after the “surprise” Sweeney exit news.
Two weeks ago when Sweeney made the announcement that she was stepping down as co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and Disney-ABC TV Group president, the prevailing impression among insiders was that the company had not selected her successor.
See photos: 16 of Anne Sweeney’s Disney-ABC Hits and Misses
At the time, Disney CEO Bob Iger said that he had been thinking about the secession plan for months — one executive at a rival network told TheWrap that Sweeney’s exit was “the worst-kept rumor” at Disney – and that he would be pulling from an internal short list of candidates. He also planned to make the announcement “fast.”
Also read: Ben Sherwood’s Career Timeline
With Sherwood’s appointment, Iger can say check, check and check.
Ben Sherwood is considered a strong and creative choice. He made TheWrap and fellow trade publications’ list of strong candidates for the position after Sweeney stepped down.
Since taking over as president of ABC News, Sherwood has led the division’s flagship program, “Good Morning America,” to unseat NBC’s “Today” as the top-rated morning show after 16 years. But, he has an extra bit most executives can’t claim on their resume: Sherwood has written three novels, including “The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud,” which became a movie starring former Disney star Zac Efron.
Although Disney Channel is steady at No. 1 on cable, when counting both ad-supported and non-ad-supported networks, ABC will need his mix of skills and expertise.
Year-over-year, ABC has seen itself fall to the third place broadcast network in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic — behind CBS and NBC, in that order without sports programs. With sports programming included, ABC is dead last after Fox. It’s clearly Sherwood’s biggest challenge coming into the job.
After a season of misses for new series, despite the success of “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” and recently “Resurrection,” the network could use some of the understanding of what viewers want that Sherwood has brought to “GMA.”
Taking advantage of the ire over Ann Curry’s dismissal at “Today,” Sherwood oversaw “GMA’s” new mix of hard news and lighter fare, which included more pop culture segments that took a page from the internet’s brand of “clicky” articles. He also drew viewers in to the real-life struggle with blood and bone marrow disease of “GMA” co-host Robin Roberts.
ABC president Paul Lee could use the mix of creative talent and understanding of what’s resonating with pop culture as he reviews next year’s slate of pilot greenlights.
In the early ’90s, Zucker ushered NBC’s “Today” through its golden years, with winning combo Matt Lauer and Katie Couric, which would last for 16 years – until Sherwood brought it down. Zucker rose through the ranks to become the president and CEO of NBCUniversal. He has gone back to his news roots and is trying to create appointment viewing at CNN, where he serves as president.
Iger has certainly set a new path for the company with Sherwood, one where we can expect some pretty great things. He doesn’t hit us as someone who’s OK with being No. 2 and in the case of ABC, No. 4.