Disney TV squeeze

Hirschhorn out of prexy posts; Lyne in line

Mouse House TV animation chief Charles Hirschhorn has been given his walking papers, partially as a result of the continued consolidation of Disney’s production units.

Hirschhorn, who had been prexy of Walt Disney Television and Walt Disney Television animation, officially exited both posts Wednesday. He had been the exec in charge of ABC’s “The Wonderful World of Disney” and also supervised Disney’s television animation unit, which produced the Alphabet web’s Saturday ayem toons.

ABC movies and minis topper Susan Lyne is expected to take over Hirschhorn’s “Wonderful World of Disney” duties. Responsibilities for TV animation and direct-to-video pics are likely to be folded into Disney’s feature animation unit.

Mouse insiders said Hirschhorn was essentially squeezed out of his posts, with different factions of ABC and Disney lobbying to gobble up his responsibilities.

Hirschhorn wasn’t helped by the continued poor performance of “The Wonderful World of Disney” on ABC. While major events like the Storyline-produced “Annie” and “Cinderella” and the preems of Disney toon theatricals have done well, ABC execs have made no secret about their disappointment over the franchise’s frequently lackluster ratings with viewers 18 and older.

After helping to build it into a success, Hirschhorn has also been present during the collapse of ABC’s once-mighty Saturday ayem sked, which now regularly finishes in third or fourth among kids 2-11.

Speculation about Hirschhorn’s exit has been rampant for months. Insiders said he pressed to have an announcement regarding his departure delayed until after the broadcast of “Annie” so that he could ankle on something of a high note.

Disney execs refused to comment on Hirschhorn’s departure, though an official announcement about a restructuring within the division is expected as early as Friday.

Hirschhorn put a positive spin on his departure, saying that when he took on “Wonderful World of Disney” three years ago, Disney prexy Joe Roth promised that he’d eventually be able to return to feature film.

“I appreciate that Joe and Peter (Schneider) have made good on that promise.”

Hirschhorn also maintained that he’s leaving Disney on top.

“The timing for me couldn’t be better,” he insisted.

As part of his exit, Hirschhorn has inked a non-exclusive first-look deal with Disney covering features and first-run TV pics for “Wonderful World of Disney.” Projects will be produced through Hirschhorn’s own company.

Hirschhorn said he’d assume production duties on a number of “Wonderful World of Disney” films he had been developing as the franchise’s executive in charge.

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