NEW YORK — Jamie Tarses felt “emasculated” by ABC’s decision to boost Stu Bloomberg above her as ABC Entertainment chairman, and may leave the network if an acceptable exit deal can be worked out, she tells the New York Times Magazine in a cover story out Sunday.
The lengthy article, by writer Lynn Hirschberg, chronicles the embattled ABC Entertainment prexy’s move from NBC to ABC last year — engineered by former Disney president Michael Ovitz — and culminates in the network’s move June 24 to install Bloomberg, a longtime development exec.
There are no bombshells in the story, in the works since January. But it’s most noteworthy for the level of access granted by Tarses to meetings and candid comments about her boss, ABC president Robert Iger, her detractors and her perception of her own standing in Hollywood.
Advance copies circulated Thursday burned up fax machines in New York and Hollywood, where industry execs can’t seem to get enough of the Tarses saga. Many have had run-ins with the exec, which fueling her reputation of being unable or unwilling to properly coddle studio execs and talent despite her strong development skills.
Hirschberg describes Tarses, 33, as a “mix of insecurity and ambition, confidence and self-destructiveness, brilliance and lack of executive skills,” although the story of her unraveling is perhaps most neatly summed up by her predecessor and brief colleague, Ted Harbert, who left ABC in January.
“It’s fine to have the desire to be head of a network, but when it comes to Jamie, it’s hard to know exactly what happened,” Harbert told the Times. “There’s some sexism and some ageism, but the truth is very complex. Some things are her fault. Some things are systemic problems with ABC. Some things are just goofs. But the town hates her, and I’m not sure even hits will fix that.”
Tarses confided she was more nervous about the rumors that Disney/ABC Cable prexy Geraldine Laybourne would be promoted above her, and didn’t believe talk about Bloomberg, even the night before Iger told her the news. “I would have understood it if they did this in October, if my schedule failed,” she said.
Despite Tarses’ public promise to stick with ABC under the new regime, “her lawyers are talking to ABC’s lawyers, and if a deal can be reached she will be gone,” Hirschberg writes. Tarses is toying with the idea of selling her house, moving to London, or trying a new career in magazines.
Among other highlights:
Hirschberg claims Tarses’ then-boyfriend Robert Morton conspired with Ovitz to encourage David Letterman to extricate himself from his CBS contract to jump to ABC. But she says Letterman saw Morton — then the producer of his “Late Show” — as an opportunist looking to elevate his own standing, cut off talks with Ovitz, his former agent, and later fired Morton.
Tarses, briefly considering a pitch for a new series featuring Roseanne from Carsey-Werner to replace her longtime but fading ABC sitcom, explains the premise has newly single Roseanne moving in with a black comedian. A colleague expresses surprise, noting that “Roseanne” is the lowest-rated show among blacks in its time period. “Oh, good,” Tarses responds. “That means there will be a portion of the audience who doesn’t hate her yet.”
Asked about her autonomy in setting the fall schedule, given the lack of new urban, NBC-style sitcoms for which Tarses is known, she said, “People truly believe that Iger is going to program the network. And I don’t know if I’ll get the credit if we succeed. But if we fail, I’m sure Iger will not get the blame.”
ABC declined comment on the article.