Paul Lee

The news of Anne Sweeney’s pending departure as Disney/ABC TV Group topper has stirred up a hornet’s nest of rumor and speculation about what happens next — and what it means for ABC.

ABC Entertainment Group chief Paul Lee has already been the subject of snarky gossip in TV circles about his being on thin ice because of the Alphabet’s struggles this season with new series. (Sunday’s solid opening for fantasy-drama “Resurrection” was a welcome respite after a string of misfires.)

But in fact, Lee is in the midst of setting a new long-term employment contract with the Mouse House, a process that was in the works even before Sweeney unleashed the surprising news that she would step down by January to pursue her goal of becoming a TV helmer. Sources say that news caught Lee and most of Sweeney’s direct reports by surprise when she disclosed it Tuesday morning at a hastily arranged staff meeting.

Lee is well regarded inside Disney, particularly by Sweeney and head honcho Bob Iger. He’s known for being analytical in his approach to programming and business decisions, and thus may be seen as a good fit in the higher-level managerial role that Sweeney is about to vacate.

Iger has made it clear he intends to move quickly to name a successor for Sweeney but sources cautioned that there is no slam-dunk choice for the job yet and that Iger is evaluating his options among several internal candidates. Despite instant speculation about external possibilities ranging from Gail Berman to Bruce Rosenblum, sources close to the situation assure that the new TV group boss will come from within Disney’s walls.

ABC News president Ben Sherwood is surely on the short list along with Lee, given the success that Sherwood has had in steering the news division and “Good Morning America’s” rise to No. 1 in the morning show wars.

Beyond that, the only certainty at ABC is that the palace intrigue surrounding the Sweeney successor selection will be as compelling to Alphabet insiders as any plot twists on “Scandal” or “Revenge” in the coming weeks.

 

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