Tarses teeters at ABC

Web taps Bloomberg chairman over ent. prez

In a stunning corporate move, ABC executive Stuart Bloomberg is expected today to be named chairman of ABC Entertainment, over ABC Entertainment president Jamie Tarses, sources said.

ABC and Tarses had no comment, but as recently as Friday she had denied rumors of Bloomberg’s appointment, saying ABC brass had assured her that it wasn’t happening. Sources said ABC president Robert Iger flew to Los Angeles and broke the news to Tarses on Monday.

Bloomberg, currently president of TV creative services at ABC, had been a top development exec at the web when Iger was entertainment prexy. Tarses has often been lauded for her development skills, meaning the strengths of the two execs would seem to overlap, rather than to complement one another.

The Bloomberg leap caps months of speculation over the power and authority of Tarses, 33, at the Alphabet web. It’s also a dramatic reversal of ABC’s unusual public endorsement of the exec on May 6, when Iger stated he had “confidence that under Jamie’s leadership we will be able to turn around ABC’s primetime performance.”

Sources said the net has given Tarses the option to stay or leave, but whether Tarses will accept her new role — reporting to Bloomberg — remains to be seen. Sources at ABC said she Monday night indicated a willingness to stay and work with Bloomberg, but her long-term future remains cloudy.

Bloomberg could not be reached for comment, nor could his lawyer.

Whether she stays or leaves, Tarses could not have been thrilled with the timing of Bloomberg’s promotion or the way it was handled — with news leaking out before she was informed.

“I can’t believe how poorly the situation has been handled,” said one top Disney exec.

A similar corporate silence and public leak occurred when Tarses was recruited to replace then-ABC Entertainment president Ted Harbert.

Tarses joined ABC one year ago, and this fall ABC debuts the first schedule with shows she developed at the web. Despite constant rumors that someone would be brought in above her, most believed the network would give her first fall sked a chance to succeed before possibly making changes.

Tarses has been under fire since day one, and sources said she never was allowed to take full control of the entertainment division. At first, Harbert was bumped up to chairman, and later Iger took a more active role. The most recent challenge to her autonomy came when Tarses ordered two midseason shows and then was forced to call the studios and rescind the offers.

Some sources said she may have been hamstrung from the start because she was recruited from NBC by ex-Disney president Michael Ovitz, who himself subsequently fell out of favor at the company.

While a possible ABC shakeup was the worst kept secret in town, Hollywood execs in the know were shocked that Bloomberg was the man chosen to run the ship. Named exec veepees in 1989, he and Harbert had been equal partners at the network — with Harbert handling scheduling and Bloomberg development — before Harbert got the job as president of ABC Entertainment nearly five years ago.

While in the entertainment division, Bloomberg helped develop hits such as “Home Improvement” and “The Wonder Years”; at the time, he was regarded as one of the top development gurus in town. But Bloomberg essentially moved out of the creative loop two years ago, when he relocated from Los Angeles to New York and jumped from the entertainment division to a corporate job.

Since then, he’s spent much of his time programming ABC’s partially owned cable nets, such as Lifetime. However, Bloomberg was also actively involved in all this year’s pilot screenings and scheduling meetings. He’s now expected to move back to Los Angeles for good.

Sources say Iger may have offered him the chairman job only after Bloomberg was sought for another high-level position elsewhere. Bloomberg’s name has popped up as candidate for jobs including UPN CEO, and sources said he was most recently in talks for a top job at Fox.

ABC execs, however, said they wanted to make the Bloomberg move now before production on the web’s shows started back up next month.

Gary Levin in New York contributed to this report.

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