Steve McPherson Leaves ABC; Paul Lee Expected to Step In

Relationships, not ratings, said to be behind exec’s departure; says his future includes the “spirits business”

ABC entertainment president Steve McPherson has announced his departure from the network.

"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," McPherson said in a brief statement released through the network.

Through his personal publicist, Stan Rosenfield, McPherson added: "I will 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."

Multiple reports have Paul Lee, currently president of the ABC Family Channel, filling McPherson's post. An ABC spokesman would not confirm that to TheWrap, but an individual close to the situation agreed it was a done deal. That would not likely be announced Tuesday night, the individual said, since Disney/ABC entertainment group president Anne Sweeney was in New York, and McPherson had not been expected to resign before she got back.

Reports say Lee would occupy the dual role as head of the network and the studio, as does McPherson, whose contract was set to expire in September of 2011.

McPherson's departure casts a rather conspicuous shadow on the summer Television Critics Association press tour, which will kick off in earnest on Wednesday morning with CBS' executive session.

McPherson has served as ABC Entertainment president since 2004, where he gestated hits including "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives." He moved into the rather expansive dual role in January 2009, where he notably hasn't been able to create dramatic replacements for the departed "Lost" or aging "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives."

His recent efforts included "FlashForward," which was canceled after one season despite early buzz, and "Happy Town," which only lasted three episodes.

However, according to an executive close to the network, programming issues didn't lead to McPherson's departure — not with the network gestating one of the last season's biggest freshman hits in "Modern Family," and "Dancing With the Stars" enjoying its best season ever.

Rather, the executive told TheWrap, the problems for McPherson were interpersonal.

Coveted for his keen programming taste, McPherson was known for often bumping heads in the creative community and within ABC.

Notably, he's known to have clashed often with Anne Sweeney in recent years.

"There was a longstanding personality clash," the executive said. "But no one inside of ABC expected this to happen at this point. Anyone who says they saw this coming is lying, unless that person is Anne Sweeney."

Among reactions to McPherson's departure, "Modern Family" co-creator Steven Levitan tweeted, "Always scary for a show to have its biggest champion leave."

On the 'spirits' side, McPherson started a high-end wine label in recent years called "Promise," and his choice to move in that direction was likely related to that venture. There was no hint of what McPherson's media plans might be.