Hearst Exec Scott Sassa's Sexting Scandal Leaves $6 Million Job Opening
UPDATED: The media giant’s conservative board seeks a "buttoned-up" replacement for its disgraced entertainment and syndication president.
This story first appeared in the April 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The ignominious resignation of Hearst entertainment and syndication president Scott Sassa in mid-March amid a sexting scandal has Hollywood buzzing about who could fill one of the few high-profile TV jobs to become available of late. The dearth of openings has left potential seekers including Warner Bros. Television Group president Bruce Rosenblum, who in January was passed over for the studio's top job and publicly expressed his disappointment, with few options. In fact, it's not even clear that the town's one sizable vacancy -- a version of Nancy Tellem's former gig as Leslie Moonves' No. 2 at CBS -- ever will be filled. Noting the conservative nature of the Hearst Corp., many industry executives expect the New York-based job to go to an internal candidate.
But Rosenblum, says one industry source, "knows the business, he's such a good negotiator, [and] it's not truly a creative job." Another source adds he has the "buttoned-up fit" that would play at Hearst, as well as the outward-facing credentials that would align with the board seats associated with the job. As of now, Hearst COO Steven Swartz has taken Sassa's place as co-chair of the A+E Networks board with Disney-ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney, say industry sources.
Sassa, 52, held a series of executive jobs at Fox, Turner, Friendster and most recently NBC before joining Hearst in 2010. The position at Hearst -- which paid Sassa a reported $6 million annual salary -- entailed oversight of Hearst's TV investments in both A+E Networks and ESPN, where the company has a 50 percent and 20 percent stake, respectively. (Multiple sources suggest input at the latter is minimal.) That's one reason, say sources, that Sassa focused on acquiring nonfiction production companies, including a 50 percent stake in Mark Burnett's firm, as well as building a digital business.
Sassa was forced out in the wake of an alleged extortion scheme involving a Los Angeles-based stripper with whom he reportedly exchanged "steamy, illicit" texts and photos. Sassa did not respond to requests for comment.
The circumstances that led to his exit are said to have shocked members of Hearst's conservative executive suite. Hearst Corp. CEO Frank Bennack Jr., notes a source, "has run that company with an iron fist for years."
On Wednesday morning, Bennack announced his plans to retire after nearly 30 years at the helm; COO Steven R. Swartz will be upped to CEO on June 1.