Disney-ABC TV Chief Ben Sherwood on Weinstein’s Victims, Shonda Rhimes’ Exit

Disney-ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood on Saturday commended the victims of alleged sexual harassment at the hands of Harvey Weinstein and other entertainment-industry power players who have shared their stories in recent weeks.

“The women who have come forward so far have shown great bravery and should be supported,” Sherwood said Saturday at USC’s 2017 Institute on Entertainment Law and Business.

Sherwood was interviewed by Bruce M. Ramer of Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown. The attorney asked Sherwood about the culture of sexual harassment in entertainment — as exemplified by disgraced mogul Weinstein — and the industry’s perceived power gap between men and women.

“This a problem, the power imbalance that you just described, cannot be allowed to occur, and needs to be addressed seriously,” Sherwood said. He went on to cite several female Disney-ABC executives including ABC Entertainment predecessor Channing Dungey and ad-sales chief Rita Ferro. “At the Walt Disney Company, the values of the company are focused on preventing and dealing with these types of issues.” Sherwood did not address Weinstein or the allegations against him directly.

He did, however, speak about the departure this summer of “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes from her longtime home at ABC Studios for an overall deal at Netflix. He joked about his 85-year-old mother calling him after news of the deal broke. “I knew then that it had penetrated far into the culture.”

Adding that “we applaud Shonda’s decision and are grateful for her contributions to ABC,” Sherwood stressed that the company and the producer remain in business together on multiple projects, including “Grey’s Anatomy,” one of TV’s longest running current scripted series.

“ABC will always be Shonda’s broadcast home,” Sherwood said. “In fact, she’s told me, told my colleagues, that she hopes ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ runs as long as ‘General Hospital’ does — for another 40 years and beyond.” He also noted that ABC Studios has “signed quite a few of Shonda’s own people from [her production company] Shondaland to deals to develop their shows.”

As for Netflix, which poached Rhimes and which ABC Studios produces multiple series for, Sherwood said, “I don’t think of Netflix as a friend or foe. I think of Netflix as a valued customer.”

Sherwood also spoke about Hulu, the Netflix competitor in which Disney holds a stake. A member of Hulu’s board of directors, he spoke about the service’s original drama series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which in September became the first streaming show to win best drama at the Primetime Emmy Awards.

“We’re extremely proud of ‘Handmaids Tale’,” he said, calling it “an extremely powerful, disturbing” show. “It is absolutely first rate, and it is proof of the strategy at Hulu that we are trying to make great content and also offer a variety of services that the customers want.”

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