Inside Move: Laggard laffers lead to ABC exec shakeup

Alphabet web seeks comedy chief

ABC’s comedy development team is getting an extreme makeover, with the unit’s top two execs set to ankle the net next month.

Comedy development topper Stephanie Leifer and veepee Richard Claflin will both exit after the May upfronts, insiders confirmed Wednesday. Shakeup comes on the heels of another unsuccessful comedy season for ABC, which — despite spectacular success in finding big dramas –hasn’t launched a half-hour comedy hit since “8 Simple Rules” in 2002.

Leifer, a 12-year Alphabet exec who’s headed the department since June 2002, told ABC Entertainment prexy Steve McPherson on Wednesday that she plans to leave the network when her contract expired next month. It’s believed Claflin quietly gave notice at least a month ago and is already planning a move to Gotham.

Frustrated by the lack of comedy hits, McPherson has been mulling a change in his comedy team for some time, insiders said. That, combined with the fact that ABC hadn’t yet made an offer to renew Leifer’s deal, made some sort of change at the top of the division inevitable, according to industry observers.

It’s not yet clear who McPherson will pick to replace Leifer. There’s already speculation that he may try to recruit one of the many former ABC execs now working as nonwriting producers to return to the Alphabet fold.

ABC declined comment.

Leifer was tapped to head ABC’s comedy division by now-departed entertainment prexy Susan Lyne. She has been at the net since January 1994, starting in the longform department. She moved over to current programming in 1995, then worked in drama during the 1996-97 development season before being tapped director of comedy series in September 1997.

In addition to “8 Simple Rules,” laffers developed while Leifer was at the net include “George Lopez,” “Savages,” “Hope and Faith” and “Less Than Perfect.”

This season’s crop of comedies — including “Emily’s Reason’s Why Not,” “Crumbs,” “Freddie” and “Sons & Daughters” — have all been ratings disappointments, though “Freddie” may have a good shot at returning. “Sons & Daughters” has been a critical darling, while last season’s “Jake in Progress” had its share of fans as well.

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