July 28, 2010 / 2:07 AM / 9 years ago

ABC's top programmer out as hits dry up

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In a major shake-up at ABC, Stephen McPherson abruptly stepped Tuesday down as the ratings-challenged network’s top entertainment programer after six years.

Although McPherson was credited for ordering last season’s breakout comedy hit “Modern Family,” which rival studio 20th Century Fox TV produced, his track record overall was modest.

ABC routinely develops more programs than any other major broadcaster, but has had difficulty following up on aging hits including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” — all of which McPherson helped develop.

“There’s a performance failure the last few years,” a rival executive said. “They spend money like drunken sailors — on talent, on development. For what they’re spending, you’d expect bigger results.”

Last season, the network tied NBC for third place among the key adults 18-40 demographic.

Industry insiders said McPherson would be replaced by ABC Family chief Paul Lee, though the network has not made a formal announcement. As was the case with McPherson, Lee will control both the entertainment department and ABC Studios as president of ABC Entertainment Group.

“I want to thank the wonderful team of individuals who have worked with me throughout my time (at ABC) and wish them nothing but the best,” McPherson said in a statement. “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.”

Insiders also cited McPherson’s temperament. The executive is said to have thorny relationships with other top executives, particularly with Disney/ABC TV Group president Anne Sweeney.

“He just doesn’t play well with others,” one industry insider said.

McPherson’s departure has been rumored for months. Talk began to intensify this week when he didn’t return to the office after a vacation.

“My guess is he caught wind of some conversations with Paul Lee,” one insider said. “I think he said, ‘Enough.’ He saw the bus coming. He’s enjoying his vacation. He wasn’t in turmoil. He has not been happy (at ABC) for quite some time.”

The move comes on the eve of the semi-annual TV press tour, which begins Wednesday with CBS. ABC is scheduled to have its executive session Sunday.

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