ABC comes of age

New ent. chairman stresses his experience

In a business obsessed with youth, newly appointed ABC Entertainment chairman Stu Bloomberg took the unusual step Tuesday of touting his age, 47, as one of the main attributes he brings to the job.

While praising ABC Entertainment president Jamie Tarses, 33, who will now report to him, Bloomberg’s decision to play the age card could be read as a direct response to those who believe Tarses was still too green to lead the network.

“We do have similar skills,” Bloomberg told Daily Variety, noting that his background, like Tarses’, is in program development. “But we bring different qualities. I’m older. I have different life experiences. We’re going to like different things.”

ABC president Robert Iger officially named Bloomberg, a 19-year network veteran, chairman of the entertainment division Tuesday. Tarses was blindsided by the move on Monday, when Iger told her of the change. After rumors of Bloomberg’s appointment previously surfaced, ABC had assured Tarses he wouldn’t be getting the chairman post (Daily Variety, June 24).

Tarses kept a low profile after the news broke, saying only in a statement that it is a “privilege to finally get to collaborate with him. And selfishly, I’m also looking forward to having someone alongside me in the hot seat.”

Bloomberg also put his best spin on the prickly situation, saying Tarses was “doing a good job, but it’s a hard job for one person to do. I can help her concentrate her energies on the part that’s most important — the programming. If I can take some of the pressure off her, that’s a good thing.”

When Tarses joined the Alphabet web a year ago, her contract stipulated that a chairman could be named above her, and Harbert occupied the chairman post for a short time before leaving the web early this year. Because her contract wasn’t changed, sources say the Bloomberg promotion is not a breach.

While Tarses is officially towing the corporate line, some industry insiders are speculating she’ll eventually ankle the web. Some sources say she wants to stick it out. But others believe she’s “playing a game of chicken” and “she won’t walk away without many millions.”

ABC’s decision to anoint Bloomberg came as a surprise to many in Hollywood because the talented development exec, responsible for hits such as “Home Improvement,” had essentially bowed out of the game two years ago.

Bloomberg joined ABC in January 1978 as an executive supervising the production of comedy and variety programs. One of his early champions was former ABC programming exec Marcy Carsey, now the Carsey-Werner head who was courted by Disney chairman Michael Eisner recently for a top ABC post.

Bloomberg rose through the ranks until, in 1989, he was named ABC’s chief development executive under Iger, who was entertainment prexy at the time.

Bloomberg and Ted Harbert were partners on the same level at the web for most of their careers, until Harbert succeeded Iger as entertainment prexy nearly five years ago. Bloomberg relocated to New York soon after and took a more nebulous corporate job as president of TV creative services.

“I’d lived in L.A. for over 20 years, and my wife and I wanted a lifestyle change,” Bloomberg said. “I had this goofy title, and I ended up working with (Disney/ABC Cable Networks prexy) Geraldine Laybourne and learning a whole other side to TV: cable.”

Bloomberg said he missed the creative side of the business, but he never really wanted to work with affiliates, or handle marketing, scheduling and the other non-programming duties of a network president. Now that Preston Padden is in as ABC Network TV president to handle sales and affiliate relations, Bloomberg felt it was time to make his move.

“I’m lucky to have Preston to lean on,” he said. “I’m older and wiser now. I’ve reached a point in my career when the timing was right. It’s a completion of my circle at ABC.”

While Bloomberg said he’s made no decision yet about any changes at ABC Entertainment, he expects Tarses will handle day-to-day business, while he’ll focus more on the overall direction of the division.

NBC has a similar setup with Warren Littlefield as entertainment president and Don Ohlmeyer in the top position: prexy of NBC, West Coast. However, the strengths and skills of Ohlmeyer and Littlefield are clearly separate and defined, so there’s little room for confusion. Studio execs say privately they will now wonder who to talk to at ABC, and they predict Tarses won’t be calling the shots if she stays.

Bloomberg is not expected to rework the fall schedule set by ABC. He participated in the pilot screenings and scheduling meetings, as did Eisner. Still, given that ABC gave Tarses virtually no time to prove herself, the pressure will be on Bloomberg to stop the web’s ratings skid, too.

“I’ve been there a really long time,” Bloomberg said. “I came when we were No. 1. We slid down and came back to No. 1. I’ve seen NBC wallow in third and rise to first. It’s hard, but it just takes hit programming. But clearly, when you have so many new shows on the schedule, it’s a bit daunting.”

As for Tarses, one ABC insider called the shakeup “torturous” for her, even though she was never given total control of the web by her bosses. The source said she felt it was “like slapping a child’s hand” when Tarses recently ordered midseason shows from Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox and was later told she didn’t have the authority to do so.

Tarses declined to comment Tuesday, and Iger could not be reached for comment.

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