HarperCollins has tapped former “Good Morning America” producer Lisa Sharkey to spearhead acquisitions of celebrity- and personality-driven books, filling a void left by celeb publisher Judith Regan.
Sharkey, most recently president of Al Roker Prods., will be responsible for mining pop culture and the world of celebrity — Regan’s forte before she was ousted after the O.J. Simpson “If I Did It” project.
She won’t have her own imprint, as Regan did, but she will head a staff of editors tasked with developing projects for several general-interest imprints of News Corp.’s publishing arm.
She’ll also be responsible for maximizing TV exposure for HarperCollins authors, reporting to prexy Michael Morrison, the No. 2 exec at the publishing giant.
“We need to extend our creative reach to introduce new talent to the publishing industry,” Morrison said. “Lisa’s impressive background of bringing stories alive on television will aid her in her quest to develop books from headline-making stories, celebrity tales and trends from all aspects of our culture.”
A 27-year television veteran, Sharkey has no publishing experience. She did work with HarperCollins on NBC special “Profiles in Courage: A Kennedy Legacy” as a tie-in to the 50th anniversary of the bestselling book.
Her main job will be to peruse the headlines with the eye of a morning show producer, finding stories with cultural significance that can be quickly turned into trade books.
Speaking of her time at “GMA,” Sharkey said, “My job was to identify what was hot, identify how to get it done quickly and better than anyone else” — a job remarkably similar to the one she’s taking up at HarperCollins.
“Lisa’s expertise in identifying what the American public is interested in has been proven by her many years in TV. We thought we could use her eye to identify that on the print side,” Morrison said.
At “GMA,” Sharkey broke the Laci Petersen story when she ran across an item on the wire about a pregnant schoolteacher from Modesto who had gone missing. She specialized in human interest and health stories, such as that of an obese girl who was taken from her parents to stop them from overfeeding her.
Her hiring shows that while HarperCollins repudiated Regan for one tawdry offering, it hasn’t lost its taste for the kind of pop-culture fare that was her specialty.
Regan was let go from News Corp. in December. Many of her books and staffers, including editorial protege Kal Morgan, have been absorbed elsewhere at HarperCollins. The Regan Books imprint was dissolved.
At the time of the firing, Regan attorney Bert Fields had suggested that a wrongful termination suit — and possibly even a libel claim — could be forthcoming in January. But no suit ever materialized, suggesting that a settlement could be in the works.
After an unusually quiet three months since the termination, reports surfaced Monday that talks between Regan and her former employer had broken down, raising the possibility that a lawsuit could be revived.
The irony is that Regan was a proven book editor looking to make the leap to TV and movies, moving her imprint West to Century City, while Sharkey is attempting to make a leap in the other direction.
Prior to joining HarperCollins, Sharkey was prexy of Al Roker Prods., the production entity founded by NBC’s “Today” weatherman that develops high-end reality skeins, cooking shows and documentaries for television.
She was senior producer at “GMA” for several years, overseeing on-air contributors and producing the second hour of the show. Earlier in her career, Sharkey was a producer for “Inside Edition,” and she has been a contributing editor at Redbook and Child magazines.
(Steven Zeitchik in New York contributed to this report.)