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Steve McPherson's Presence Felt at TCA

The former ABC topper, who abruptly left the network before last summer’s TCA press tour, gets a shoutout from Marc Cherry and appears in PBS’ “America in Primetime.”

Steve McPherson
Steve McPherson

It’s been one year since former ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson shocked the industry by abruptly leaving ABC days before the network was due to present its slate at the Television Critics Association press tour. Since then, McPherson has kept a low profile, presumably tending to his wine business (he has a Napa Valley label called Promise) and mostly staying out of the spotlight.

But McPherson -- whose departure from ABC came amid allegations that the network was conducting an internal sexual harassment investigation of the executive -- was a spectral presence at this year’s TCA. Not only did he get a shout-out from Marc Cherry when the Desperate Housewives creator appeared with current ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee to talk about the ending the show. But he also appears in on-camera interviews for two installments of PBS’ four-part America in Primetime documentary.

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The film, executive produced by former ABC News producer Tom Yellin, examines TV archetypes: “Man of the House," “The Crusader,” "Independent Woman” and “The Misfit.” PBS presented the project – which bows in October – in a question and answer session that included Yellin, Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal, Nurse Jackie co-creators Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem and Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman.

And while McPherson’s name did not come up during the TCA panel, the show was piped into media reporters’ rooms at the Beverly Hilton via closed circuit. McPherson talks about Modern Family in “Man of the House,” which is the first episode. He also comments on the chasm between network and cable programming in the “Independent Woman” installment. The four-hour documentary is a who’s-who in primetime entertainment with a plethora of producers (Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, Diane English, Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey, Matthew Weiner, David Chase, Judd Apatow, Larry David) and actors (Mary Tyler Moore, Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin, Edie Falco, Mary Louise Parker, Roseanne Barr and Michael C. Hall).

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(Yellin noted that there were only a handful of people he could not get to participate including Bill Cosby and James Gandolfini. He also said he couldn’t book anyone from Glee, but he chalked that up to scheduling.)

And McPherson is in good company among current and former network executives. Former NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield, Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly and HBO Entertainment president Sue Naegle are also interviewed.

But McPherson got a much more personal endorsement from Cherry. Appearing with Lee at the end of Lee’s TCA executive session last Sunday, Cherry effusively declared that he owed his career to McPherson.

“Paul’s predecessor Stephen McPherson saved my life,” said Cherry. “He saved my career. He was the only person in town who took a chance on [Desperate Housewives]. Everyone else had turned it down.”

So when McPherson left ABC, Cherry made it clear that he was unhappy.

“I’m like, ‘Well, this is not good. How am I going to do this? Steve’s my guy. Steve’s my guy.’ And one of the executives called Sabrina Wind, my producing partner, and said, ‘Could you have Marc stop saying that Steve’s his guy because he’s going to have a new boss.’ And I got a little upset. I was, like, ‘No, I don’t care who they’re bringing in. I owe everything to Steve.’”

Cherry has since forged a very warm relationship with Lee.