ABC Entertainment, bracing for dozens of layoffs due to the planned merger with Disney’s TV production arm, Monday confirmed the departure of drama veep Stephen Tao, but strongly denied a report on Newsweek’s Web site that prexy Jamie Tarses would soon be asked to resign.
“It is simply untrue,” ABC Group chairman Bob Iger said in a statement late Monday. Iger was not available for further comment, leaving the door open, in the post-Clinton impeachment era, for speculation about just how Iger was defining “it” and “is.”
Tarses’ future with the Alphabet web had been in question following last month’s surprising news that Disney would merge its network TV production arm with ABC Entertainment. Lloyd Braun, former chairman of Buena Vista TV Prods., was named co-chairman of the division along with Alphabet web vet Stu Bloomberg, previously the sole chairman of ABC Entertainment.
There were rumblings that Tarses had felt snubbed in the new structure and was looking to exit. The Newsweek report by Johnnie L. Roberts suggested that Tarses was being phased out, after a rocky tenure, as part of the post-merger restructuring.
Yet Tarses has been a very active presence in recent weeks, taking the lead in the annual flurry of media interviews on the new fall TV season. ABC also has been riding high over the past week on the better-than-expected draw of the Regis Philbin-hosted gameshow “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
Tarses, who in 1996 became the first femme to serve as entertainment prexy of a Big Three web, has faced a steady stream of rumors about her employment status ever since she arrived at ABC. She did so amid controversy about her departure from NBC, where she had been a senior programming exec.
Sources say Tarses has about two years left on her contract with ABC.
Meanwhile, after several anxious weeks and a chaotic who’s-in-who’s-out Monday, ABC Entertainment and Disney TV staffers were girding today for the official word on staff cuts prompted by the merger.
Tao, who had been in line for a promotion from veep to senior VP of drama, was told last Friday that his position would be eliminated, sources said.
At a time when the TV biz is under fire for the lack of ethnic diversity in its exec suites, it’s noteworthy that Tao was one of the highest-ranking minority execs at ABC. Thom Sherman, ABC’s exec director of drama, is set to take on Tao’s responsibilities for drama development.
All told, sources say about 50 staffers will be pinkslipped as part of the melding of ABC and Disney. Most of the cuts are expected to hit below the veepee level, and additional streamlining of back-office administrative functions will be done through attrition.
Indeed, ABC is in the process of relocating much of its Gotham-based operations — and some 200-300 jobs — to the web’s new HQ in Burbank. Gotham staffers have until Aug. 31 to say yea or nay to relocating, and it appears that only about 10%-15% of East Coast staffers are poised to make the move.
One Gotham-based exec ready to head West is marketing maven Alan Cohen, who will serve as exec VP of marketing and promotion for the ABC Entertainment TV Group. But ABC is still expected to name an East Coast marketing topper.
On the studio side, Steve McPherson, exec VP of creative affairs at Buena Vista TV Prods., had been rumored to be ankling in the wake of the Mouse House’s TV restructuring. But sources now say he’ll stay on as the head of the unit devoted to producing shows for outside webs.
There’s been much debate in TV circles as to whether Disney would remain a viable primetime supplier to non-ABC webs in light of the merger. It’s clear that under the terms of the realignment mapped out by ABC Entertainment co-chairmen Bloomberg and Braun, the Mouse is hoping to reassure rival webs that Disney is still open for business.