Exec inks new multi-year pact with network

ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson is sticking with the Alphabet net.

McPherson has inked a multiyear deal with ABC that keeps him in charge of the network’s successful entertainment division.

With McPherson’s contract set to expire this summer, industry wags have been speculating for months over his plans: Would he remain with the net — where he helped bring about one of the biggest primetime comebacks in recent TV history — or search for opportunities elsewhere?

That answer came late Thursday, when Disney/ABC Television Group co-chair Anne Sweeney announced McPherson’s pact.

“Steve is one of the most influential programmers of his generation,” Sweeney said. “Under his leadership ABC has become a primetime powerhouse. His ability to identify talent and develop successful shows is second to none, and that, combined with his marketing savvy, has helped turn ABC Entertainment around.”

McPherson cited his network lieutenants as a big factor in deciding to stick with the net.

“I feel really fortunate to get the opportunity to continue on with the phenomenal team I have at ABC Entertainment,” he said.

Under McPherson, ABC went from fourth place to a solid second (behind “American Idol”-fueled Fox) and has won the November sweep among adults 18-49 over the past three years.

ABC has been shoveling money into the network under McPherson’s watch. Thanks to the strength of the Alphabet’s primetime sked, last year’s upfronts wrapped with ABC leading the industry in cost per thousand (CPM) increases of up to 10%; the net scored $2.4 billion in commitments.

With a weak economy and network viewership erosion, this year’s industrywide upfront outlook isn’t nearly as rosy. Disney brass were said to be eager to finalize McPherson’s new contract prior to the net’s upfront presentation Tuesday; otherwise, talk of McPherson’s future might have overshadowed the network’s message.

Madison Avenue has also been a fan of McPherson’s creative chops: Under his watch, ABC’s perf among upscale viewers has skyrocketed. This year, the network is just behind Fox among adults 18-49 homes with an income of more than $100,000. Net’s rating in that demo is also up 16% from when McPherson joined in 2004.

Widely considered a maverick in the biz, McPherson kept everyone guessing — including Disney — for a few months. But deal was finalized Thursday, just five days before McPherson is set to take the stage and introduce ABC’s fall sked at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.

Ultimately, insiders said he stands to earn a huge salary bump at ABC, making him one of — if not the — best-paid entertainment chiefs in the biz. But insiders noted that McPherson had also hoped to add additional duties to his job as entertainment prexy; one option could have been adding oversight of ABC Studios, a chairman position that has been vacant since Lloyd Braun was let go in 2004.

McPherson took over as ABC Entertainment president in 2004. Before that, he was president of Touchstone Television (now ABC Studios).

At Touchstone, he developed skeins such as “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Then, having moved over to ABC, he was able to shepherd those shows to highly successful debuts in the 2004-05 season.

Also, when McPherson moved to the net, ABC had ended the year with just one show in the top 20 among adults 18-49. This year, the network boasts seven, including four of the top 10. ABC has also managed to grow its adult 18-49 number without the help of “Monday Night Football.”

This season, ABC launched five of the top 10 new skeins among adults 18-49, including top-rated new laffer “Samantha Who.” Other shows developed during McPherson’s tenure include “Pushing Daisies,” “Ugly Betty” and “Dancing With the Stars.”

McPherson’s track record at Touchstone included “Alias,” “According to Jim,” “Scrubs,” “Monk” and “The Amazing Race.” He also developed the original “CSI.”

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