NEW YORK — ABC’s decision to name Stu Bloomberg to lead its beleaguered entertainment division may have surprised some industry execs. But few were startled to learn the network had installed another exec over Jamie Tarses, just a year after naming her to lead the unit as president.
Reaction was mainly positive Tuesday, in the belief that ABC needed the bench strength of someone like Bloomberg, the new chairman, with 19 years at ABC in several development posts.
“Obviously we needed someone there who has the depth of experience, who knows how to deal with the Hollywood community and has some seasoning,” said one senior ABC exec, referring to Tarses’ contentious relations with some studio execs.
But some had hoped for a bigger marquee hire; after all, ABC had unsuccessfully tried to recruit Carsey-Werner topper Marcy Carsey. And while crediting Bloomberg for shepherding hits like “Home Improvement” in 1991, they noted that ABC has had several lean seasons since then, even during his watch as a top nurturer of new series.
Despite parallels to NBC’s setup, where entertainment prexy Warren Littlefield was joined by West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer, the ostensible partnership of Bloomberg and Tarses has some scratching their heads about their similar backgrounds, leading a few to wonder about Tarses’ long-term plans.Under ABC president-CEO Bob Iger’s leadership as then-entertainment prexy in the early 1990s, Ted Harbert was more the “businessman” to Bloomberg’s “creative strength,” one top ad-agency media buyer noted. “Now you have two creative people, rather than the point-counterpoint. The question is how they can work together, and do they want to work together.”
Despite some reservations, industry execs and ABC’s own affiliates seemed glad that the Alphabet web moved swiftly to build support beams for primetime by installing Bloomberg — rumored to have attracted interest for top jobs at Fox and UPN — as entertainment chairman. He fills a post vacated by his former colleague Harbert in February, when ABC said Tarses would lead the division solo.
In Bloomberg, Iger gets a known quantity accustomed to the ABC culture and Iger’s own management style; the ABC chief already has taken a far more active role in programming and hand-holding of key producers and talent.
The only issue for the sensitivity training manual was that despite rumors, Tarses appeared not to know of the impending change in the chain of command, an assessment confirmed by her associates.
“She was really surprised, especially since they told her they wouldn’t do this,” said one ABC exec, referring to Iger’s steadfast denials both in public statements and to Tarses directly. The exec believes Tarses has yet to “figure out what she wants to do,” although top network officials have indicated she’s already agreed to stay.
Ultimately, however, Alan Bell, president of group owner Freedom Broadcasting, expressed the consensus of many of the networks’ constituencies: “As an affiliate owner, the niceties of timing are not as important to me as getting in there and fixing these things as rapidly as possible.”