ABC exec's rocky run ends in wake of Disney prod'n merger

This time it’s really true: The rocky three-year tenure of Jamie Tarses, ABC’s embattled entertainment prexy, has ended.

ABC’s announcement of Tarses’ resignation comes just three days after ABC Group chairman Bob Iger denied a Newsweek report that she was due to be ousted.

Tarses’ departure was spurred by the merger hastily unveiled last month of Disney’s production arm and ABC’s primetime entertainment wing.

It was an open secret in TV circles that Tarses was butting heads with Lloyd Braun, the Disney TV production topper who was named co-chairman, alongside Alphabet vet Stu Bloomberg, of the merged ABC Entertainment Television Group last month.

By contrast, Braun and Bloomberg get on well, and observers say their respective skills complement each other well. Braun, an attorney by training, is known as a hard-charging deal maker, adept at wooing talent and closing deals. Bloomberg, a 21-year ABC vet, is praised for his development skills and skedding savvy.

Tarses, often described by associates as mercurial, was said to have felt snubbed over the management realignment, which put Braun and Bloomberg on equal footing overseeing both the network and the studio operation.

Now, it’s expected that Braun and Bloomberg will function as a team much like the setup at NBC with West Coast prexy Scott Sassa and entertainment prexy Garth Ancier. In the wake of the merger plan, producers and agents had grumbled that they were uncertain who to pitch to at the Alphabet web.

The ABC streamlining was mandated by Walt Disney Co. chairman Michael Eisner as a cost-cutting move, but also as a means of fostering more collaboration between the studio and the network. Tarses’ exit comes as ABC and Disney are preparing pink slips for about 50 staffers as a result of the streamlining.

The chilly relations between Tarses and Braun were said to be a factor in ABC’s lack of interest in the new series projects developed by Braun’s team, which only landed one new skein, the drama “Once and Again,” on ABC’s fall lineup. That’s hardly the kind of network-studio synergy Eisner had in mind in 1995 when Disney forked over $18 billion to buy Capital Cities/ABC.

Tarses sought Thursday to accentuate the positive in addressing her departure.

“I think this is going to be a great year for ABC. I’m proud of the general schedule and the overall look and feel of the network,” she told Daily Variety. “It was exciting to feel like our goals were in reach.”

Landmark post

Tarses became the first woman to serve as entertainment prexy of a Big Three web when she joined ABC in June 1996, amid considerable controversy over her departure from NBC.

She had been in the entertainment prexy job for just a year before ABC brass opted to bring in Alphabet vet Bloomberg over her as chairman of ABC Entertainment.

Several people described Tarses’ reaction to the Bloomberg-Braun pairing as “immature.” ABC Group topper Iger went out to L.A. last week to investigate reports that the relationship among the troika was not working out. Particularly troubling to Iger were reports that Tarses was openly dismissive of Braun and his new role within ABC.

“Jamie didn’t want Lloyd involved in her business or even in the business of the studio side if she was involved,” said one industry insider familiar with the timeline surrounding Tarses’ exit.

So strained was the relationship that Tarses often failed to even acknowledge Braun’s presence if the two passed each other in a hallway.

“Jamie’s staff was afraid to even smile at Lloyd out of fear that she might get angry at them,” said one knowledgeable person.

Following last week’s breakfast confab, Iger followed up with calls and meetings with all three of the execs in an effort to solve the personality crisis. With development season just getting under way, he didn’t want the net to be plagued by the perception that ABC was at war with itself, one industry insider said.

Network insiders insist that Tarses was not fired, but was simply told — as were Braun and Bloomberg — that the new exec structure needed to work. Rather than fight, Tarses chose to quit, insiders said.

It’s unlikely Tarses will be immediately replaced, though several observers believe the net will need to find an exec to handle day-to-day development, skedding decisions and supervision of current programs.

Creative force

For all the rumors about her demise that dogged Tarses during her stay at ABC, the web will surely miss her skill in shepherding programs, particularly comedies.

“All the noise aside, Jamie Tarses was single-handedly responsible for bringing ‘Dharma & Greg’ to ABC,” said Sandy Grushow, prexy of 20th Century Fox TV. “She was also a big advocate of ‘The Practice’ and ‘Two Guys & A Girl.’ I appreciated her support over the years.”

ABC Television prexy Pat Fili-Krushel on Thursday called Tarses “a very talented creative executive. We were in a transitional period of combining (ABC and Disney), trying to see how things would be worked out. Ultimately, Jamie decided to leave.”

Biz friction

One exec at a competing net said that while Tarses deserved respect for her creative skills, she also managed to alienate many in the town, particularly those in the business side of the biz — like Braun.

“She’s very smart and she knows the creative world very well,” the exec said. “Her downfall was: She thumbs her nose at people who aren’t part of that world.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more