Disney's Anne Sweeney Exit: 5 Possible In-House Replacements
This story first appeared in the March 21-28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Anne Sweeney’s departure from the top TV job at Disney jump-starts a horse race to succeed her. “I am convinced that we have the talent to replace Anne,” CEO Robert Iger tells THR. But the Disney chief also says he would like someone in place by the end of TV pilot season in mid-May, meaning he’ll need to move quickly to find a qualified candidate ready to step into a role overseeing 10,000 employees, $11.9 billion in revenue in 2013 and properties as diverse as Disney Channel’s Phineas and Ferb and ABC’s Scandal and Jimmy Kimmel Live! While Iger hasn’t ruled out looking for a fresh face from outside the Disney family (names that could be in the mix include former ABC reality executive Andrea Wong and Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, former CBS exec and current Xbox chief Nancy Tellem), THR offers a look at some of the possible in-house candidates.
Nancy Dubuc, 45
President and CEO, A+E Networks
Inside Track: A fast-rising programmer who has forged a close relationship with Iger, Dubuc has the corporate elan to lead Disney/ABC, which owns 50 percent of A+E (but co-parent Hearst would object to letting her go). She has worked closely with Sweeney, who sits on A+E’s board. And since she was promoted last year, Dubuc oversees a portfolio valued at $20 billion that includes cable channels (History, A&E, Lifetime, fyi, LMN, H2, Military History), 160 global channels, A&E IndieFilms, digital and products. Dubuc took History from stagnant channel to a global brand that helped to usher in the miniseries revival.
Paul Lee, 53
President, ABC Entertainment Group
Inside Track: Iger expresses confidence in Lee, despite ABC languishing in fourth place this season among broadcast networks. And while new midseason entry Resurrection kicked off March 9 with more than 13 million viewers, Lee’s hits Modern Family, Revenge and Once Upon a Time are down significantly from last season and freshman drama Agents of SHIELD is far from a hit. Still, Lee was handpicked by Sweeney to run the network after the combative Stephen McPherson left, and before his current post, Lee boosted ABC Family with lucrative teen franchises.
Gary Marsh, 59
President and chief creative officer, Disney Channels Worldwide
Inside Track: Marsh, a 25-year veteran of the company, presides over the most lucrative TV asset in the Disney portfolio after ESPN. Disney Channel alone is valued at $10 billion, according to Wunderlich Securities. Marsh’s portfolio includes the Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Disney Cinemagic and Hungama brands, plus the Radio Disney broadcast and satellite radio network and station group as well as a suite of SVOD products that includes the Watch apps. The well-liked executive also oversees the Disney Channel Original Movies franchise, which includes more than 90 titles.
Ben Pyne, 54
President, global distribution, Disney Media Networks
Inside Track: A key Disney veteran, Pyne’s vast portfolio includes international distribution and sales of entertainment and news content including features, TV series, kids programming and direct-to-video. Pyne also oversees domestic distribution of Disney/ABC television content. He came up through the sales and marketing teams at ESPN and Disney/ABC cable, and he works closely with top leaders throughout the company, including Sweeney, studios president Alan Bergman and ESPN executive vp sales and marketing Sean Bratches, giving him all of the relevant experience.
Ben Sherwood, 50
President, ABC News
Inside Track: In 2010, Sherwood emerged from self-imposed exile to make his third go-round at ABC News (he landed his first job there as an associate producer in 1989). Since then, he has spearheaded partnerships with Yahoo and Univision, and he toppled the 16-year morning news winning streak of NBC’s Today. In April, Good Morning America likely will mark the second anniversary of that milestone amid a sharp uptick in advertising revenue. Sherwood, a shrewd networker, also has cultivated a strong relationship with Iger, who is known to email comments on ABC News’ coverage of big stories.