Paul Lee to head ABC programming

Entertainment prexy Stephen McPherson has resigned

In a major shakeup at ABC, Stephen McPherson has resigned his post as ABC Entertainment Group prexy and will be replaced by ABC Family prexy Paul Lee.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, McPherson said: “I want to thank the wonderful team of individuals who have worked with me throughout my time here and wish them nothing but the best.”

Lee’s choice for the major promotion is no surprise to Mouse House insiders. ABC Family has been on a hot streak during the past year with buzzworthy original skeins including “Pretty Little Liars” and “Huge.” The youthful demo for the cabler is the kind of aud that the Mouse would like to bring to the Alphabet net.

McPherson had been rumored to be on the Disney hot seat for months, although most expected that the conglom wouldn’t make a change until at least the fall. Rumors started to spread of McPherson’s exit on Tuesday afternoon, as the exec — who had been on vacation — was scheduled to return to the office on Monday. When he hadn’t returned by Tuesday, speculation about his departure began to mount.

The shuffle now threatens to overshadow this week’s TV Critics Assn. press tour, which kicks off Wednesday with CBS. ABC’s press tour segment takes place on Sunday, Aug. 1 — and the Alphabet’s executive session will now likely be the most-attended one of the tour.

McPherson was most recently president of the ABC Entertainment Group, having expanded his domain in January 2009. As part of his expanded duties, he oversaw both ABC Entertainment programming and ABC Studios. He had overseen ABC Entertainment since 2004.

McPherson served as one of the architects behind ABC’s 2004 recovery, having headed up Touchstone TV as it developed megahits like “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Later, after he took over ABC Entertainment, McPherson was credited with guiding the marketing campaigns that pushed “Housewives” and “Lost.”

But McPherson’s track record has been spotty more recently. He managed to launch a comedy block this year — something ABC had been lacking — thanks to the success of new hit “Modern Family.” But ABC struggled to duplicate the success of “Lost.” And as “Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy” age, the net is in need of a few new femme-centric hits.

McPherson has also frequently clashed with Disney/ABC TV Group topper Anne Sweeney; the two held a shaky peace, but industry observers expected that relationship to eventually lead to McPherson’s exit.

Nonetheless, McPherson’s exit shocked Hollywood on Tuesday, as any potential ABC shuffle was expected to take place down the road, if at all. And definitely not a few days before TV Critics Assn. press tour, as reporters have now been given free reign to hype ABC’s woes.

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