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Anne Sweeney on Disney CEO Post: ‘It Wasn’t the Job I Wanted’

Kathryn Bigelow and the late Gil Cates — that’s the unlikely pair who were two of the major influences on Anne Sweeney’s surprising decision to move on from her top perch at Disney/ABC TV Group to pursue a career as a TV director.

Bigelow’s milestone of becoming the first woman to win the Oscar for director, for 2008’s “The Hurt Locker,” had a profound effect on Sweeney as she watched the director collect her glass-breaking trophy. “I remember just having that moment of ‘Wow,’ ”  Sweeney told Variety.

Cates, the director-producer who died in 2011, was a longtime friend and associate of Sweeney’s through his work at the Geffen Playhouse and as a frequent exec producer of ABC’s Oscarcast.

“Gil and I had a lot of conversations about directing,” Sweeney said. “I was reflecting on them this past year while I was thinking about what to do next. Gil just loved to encourage people. I think Gil’s getting a kick out of this right now.”

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Sweeney said she had been thinking about taking her plunge into learning the ropes of directing for the past year, especially during the past six months as the expiration of her employment contract approached. Disney boss Bob Iger reached out to her last summer to begin discussions on a contract renewal.

“I starting thinking about the work I do here and what I wanted to accomplish,” she said. “I knew I didn’t want to go work for another media company. I started thinking about my opportunities and the one thing that kept banging around in my brain was the creative process.”

Sweeney is well aware that industryites will read her move as jumping off before she could be passed over for the Disney CEO spot, which is scheduled to be vacated in 2016 when Iger steps down. Sweeney insists this is not the case.

“A lot of people wanted that (CEO) job for me,” Sweeney said. “What I knew was that as great as that job is, it wasn’t the job I wanted for myself. I did not want that as my next chapter.”

Sweeney intends to remain at Disney/ABC through the end of the year, and then it will be time “to put myself back to school.”

“I’m going to be consulting with many friends and many talented people about the best way to do this … I’ve been on many, many sets in my career. It’s time for me to show up not as a visitor.”

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