Tom Ascheim Steps Down as Freeform President (Exclusive)

Freeform president Tom Ascheim-Getty - H 2020
Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage

There's a change at the top of Freeform.

Longtime network president Tom Ascheim has opted to exit Disney's younger-skewing cable network. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Ascheim, who was expected to renew his deal, has another post lined up that should be announced shortly. A replacement has not yet been determined.

Ascheim announced his departure Tuesday to staff in a memo, calling his decision "bittersweet." He will remain on board through June before starting his unannounced new post July 1. (Read his memo in full, below.)

Freeform declined comment.

Ascheim has overseen Freeform since 2013, when the former executive vp and GM of Nickelodeon and CEO of Newsweek took over for Michael Riley. During his tenure, Ascheim oversaw the cable network's rebranding from ABC Family to Freeform and a shift in direction that targeted a demo that he dubbed "becomers" — those who were experiencing a series of firsts in life, such as love and jobs.

Ascheim notably was passed over in late 2018 for the top job at Disney-owned broadcaster ABC, a post that went to his then-No. 2, head of originals Karey Burke. Together, Ascheim and Burke helped reinvent Freeform with such breakout series as The Bold Type and Black-ish spinoff Grown-ish and, more recently, critically praised rookies like Everything's Gonna Be Okay and the Party of Five update.

With Ascheim and Burke, Freeform shifted from its former flagship series, Pretty Little Liars, to a home for more socially conscious originals including The Fosters spinoff Good Trouble and other fan-favorites, including the genre play Siren.

Ascheim is best known for his focus on data and strategy and most recently tapped former Tornante TV and Comedy Central grad Lauren Corrao as his head of development, replacing Burke. Since taking over for Burke last April, Corrao has been charged with accelerating and amplifying content at Freeform while overseeing scripted and unscripted development and current originals as well as casting and talent development.

The news comes as Disney on Thursday announced plans to furlough staffers as a response to the novel coronavirus crisis that has shut down its parks and cruise divisions.

Ascheim's memo to staff follows.

Dear Freeformers:

I have bittersweet news to share with all of you. After much agonized consideration, I’ve decided to accept a new job which I will be starting on July 1st. I promise to share all the details with you, hopefully in the very near future, just as soon as I am able. I will be here manning the Freeform ship through the end of June.

This was not an easy decision, most especially because of all of you. Together we have built a fantastic creature called Freeform, of which I will be forever proud. While I will be really sad not to see you every day (even when we are no longer huddling in place) I know that this team can weather anything. I also know this is a hard time in the world, and thus a difficult time for a transition but there is not a group about which I am more confident.

I want to thank Bob, Ben, Peter and Dana for giving me the chance to lead all of you and to transform the very successful ABC Family into what was at the time a risky proposition called Freeform. And look at us now. Your work — the shows, the brand, the oh so many insta posts, the incandescent casts, the extraordinary press, the experimental digital creations — have turned that risky proposition into a thriving brand and business. I could not be prouder of what you’ve pulled off and I’d like to think the world is a little better because of what we all have done and you will continue to do.

When we toast someone’s departure, I always say and mean, once a Freeformer, always a Freeformer. I hope you will afford me that same Freeform club membership and I will absolutely continue to think of all of you as my work family.

I’m at work — at least on Blue Jeans — until the end of June, so we will have plenty of time to talk. And you know you’re not shy, so come find me using whatever screen is handy.

All my best,