Mouse makes move to further integrate ABC
Walt Disney Studios on Monday confirmed that Brillstein-Grey Entertainment president Lloyd Braun has been named to the top TV post at the company — a decision that is being viewed as an attempt to better integrate the production company with the network it owns, ABC.
After playing with several different titles on Monday, Disney finally named Braun, 39, to the newly created post of chairman of Buena Vista TV Prods., which will be the umbrella group encompassing Walt Disney Network TV and Touchstone TV.
Braun’s appointment, reporting to Walt Disney Studios chairman Joe Roth, was anticipated (Daily Variety, March 2). He will oversee all network primetime development and production, specials and movies of the week.
Colleagues describe Braun as an aggressive but affable negotiator with a strong business background in TV packaging and dealmaking. Prior to joining Brillstein-Grey in 1994, he was a lawyer at the firm Silverberg, Katz, Thompson & Braun.
The last time Disney had a TV chairman was from 1993-94, when Rich Frank was chairman of Walt Disney TV and Telecommunications. More recently, Dean Valentine ran the TV division as president of Walt Disney TV and Walt Disney TV Animation.
Valentine ankled Disney last fall to run UPN, and his duties were split and reassigned to David Neuman, president of Walt Disney Network TV and Touchstone TV; and Charles Hirschhorn, president of Walt Disney TV and executive VP of the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group.
At the time of Valentine’s departure, Disney’s official line was that no one would be hired to fill the slot. Meanwhile, Roth had actually quietly approached 20th Century Fox TV president Sandy Grushow for the job late last year, sources say.
Grushow, who is under contract at 20th and is happy with his future prospects there, declined the offer. More recently, Disney homed in on Braun, who was let out of his contract early by Brillstein-Grey co-chairman Brad Grey.
Disney’s Hirschhorn will continue to report to Roth and supervise TV animation at the studio, as well as the direct-to-video division and ABC’s “The Wonderful World of Disney” franchise.
It’s unclear exactly how Braun’s duties overseeing movies of the week will fit in with Hirschhorn’s role overseeing Disney’s Sunday movie franchise. Braun also will be involved, but will not directly oversee, TV animation and direct-to-video.
Neuman, who has reported to Roth for the past six months, will now report to Braun. Neuman did not return phone calls seeking comment, and while sources said he was surprised by Braun’s hiring, he took the news well and told his staff that the appointment was a positive development.
In terms of Braun’s plans for management of Disney’s TV division, he said, “I’m told there are a lot of talented people at the company, and I’m looking forward to maximizing the talent we have.”
One of Braun’s main tasks will be to create hit franchises and to help Disney and ABC better coordinate their development. So far, the shows Disney has put on ABC have been disappointing, including two TGIF sitcoms “Teen Angel” and “You Wish,” and the sitcom “Hiller & Diller,” which followed “Home Improvement.”
The relationship between some Disney execs and ABC Entertainment execs has been less than stellar in the past. Ironically, during Braun’s tenure at Brillstein-Grey, the company has actually had some high-profile spats with ABC, too.
“It’s my job to make the relationship with ABC, and every other network, work,” Braun said. “There’s no question that putting shows on ABC is an important mandate. I’m not going to let that relationship be anything but great.”
While at Brillstein-Grey, Braun oversaw both the TV and motion pictures divisions, creating such series as “Just Shoot Me” and “NewsRadio.” He also was a manager for Cher and director Stephen Hopkins, whom he’ll no longer manage.
Brillstein-Grey is not expected to replace Braun, sources said, although the company is looking for a new business affairs executive. Kevin Reilly, executive VP of TV, and Michael Rosenfeld, senior VP of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, now will report to Grey, as will the top feature film and management company execs.
Brillstein-Grey’s TV division is as somewhat of a crossroads at the moment. The company has scaled back on the pricey writer-producer deals it made in the early years of the company, and a lot of energy is focused on fighting the lawsuit filed by Gary Shandling.
Sources say Brillstein-Grey is very close to settling out of its joint venture with ABC, at which point Universal begins funding the company and gets a 50% ownership stake. Grey is in talks with Barry Diller about how and whether Brillstein-Grey will fit in with the new USA Networks Studios.