In their first joint public appearance Wednesday, ABC Entertainment president Jamie Tarses and newly installed chairman Stu Bloomberg tried to convince a skeptical crowd that they plan to work as “partners” to reverse the network’s downward slide.
“I’m staying at ABC,” Tarses told a packed room at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena. “I am deeply committed to it, and I’m excited.”
The session was dominated by questions about the recent management shakeup in which Bloomberg was brought in above Tarses without her knowledge. Tarses dismissed the idea that she’s unhappy with the new arrangement and is negotiating a release from her contract.
While admitting that she had a moment of doubt right after ABC told her about Bloomberg’s promotion, Tarses said, “I took a beat, and it was a very fast beat, and I made the commitment in very short order to stay. It was a moment anyone would have taken when change was thrust upon them.”
Bloomberg went out of his way to laud Tarses, saying he felt “pretty cocky” sitting next to “this incredibly talented president.”
Tarses also said she has the backing of ABC brass, including ABC president Robert Iger. “Bob and I have met,” she said. “We have an understanding. I have his support.”
Despite pronouncements from Tarses and Bloomberg that they will work as a team, the duo still will have to overcome doubts. Just after she was hired a year ago, Tarses shared the same stage with Ted Harbert, who had just been bumped upstairs to chairman. ABC at that press tour played the song “Happy Together,” but six months later, Harbert left the network, as many had predicted.
Sources say Bloomberg and Tarses considered making light of the current situation with a similar comedy stunt, but ended up scrapping that idea and cutting to the chase.
Bloomberg cast aside
Although Bloomberg and Tarses sat side-by-side on stage, Bloomberg was almost totally overshadowed. Not only were most of the questions directed to Tarses, but one TV critic literally shoved Bloomberg aside after the briefing as reporters scrambled to surround Tarses for more grilling.
Tarses said she was surprised by the amount of attention she has received in recent weeks.
“I don’t understand why it’s stayed such a prominent topic,” she said. “It’s something you couldn’t have anticipated, and it just doesn’t seem warranted. I’m a network president. It’s a job. It seems rather peculiar.”
But Iger, who was on hand after the press briefing, had his own theory about the press frenzy.
“It’s a highly charged story,” he said. “You’ve got a young woman in a very powerful position. Add in the circumstances when she left NBC. Sprinkle in a little Disney merger. Add to it our fortunes in primetime, and you’ve got the makings of a pretty good story.”
Talk of the town
One story, in fact, was the subject of a great deal of questioning at the press tour: a recent New York Times magazine profile on Tarses that’s been the talk of the town for the past week. While Tarses did not want to discuss the article in detail, she called it “unfortunate” that the story “gave everyone the impression I won’t be staying at the network.” However, she added, “We have all put the article behind us.”
She did refute a couple of points made in the story, one being a quote from Harbert that the town “hates her.”
“I don’t feel like the most hated woman in Hollywood,” she said. “I’m a network president, and we say, ‘No.’ When you’re in a job where you’re going to disappoint people sometimes, no matter how you handle it, not everyone’s going to love you all the time.”
Win some, lose some
Tarses said she’s made some right choices and some wrong choices during her year-long tenure at ABC, and sometimes, “You may have to take half a step back in order to move forward.”
Aside from the management questions, a few other issues surfaced at the press tour:
On the TV content ratings issue, Bloomberg said that shortly after he arrived in Los Angeles, he got a call from NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield. “He said, ‘We’d really like ABC to get behind us in the ratings,’ and I’m thinking, ‘We are,’ ” Bloomberg quipped. “I didn’t know what he was talking about.”
On the future of “Ellen,” Tarses said that not every episode will “be about being a lesbian,” but at some point during the season, the lead character Ellen Morgan will be dating. “It’s about baby steps for this character,” she said. On the question of whether a lesbian kiss will grace the screen, Tarses said, “If it is handled as effectively as the episodes were handled last season, there should be a way to do it.”
Negotiations continue on a pick-up of the canceled NBC sitcom ”Something So Right,” which Bloomberg confirmed the network is interesting in snagging.