ABC merges net, studio under McPherson


Former ABC Studios chief Stephen McPherson will be running the studio again.

In a restructuring that had been in the works for a few months, ABC Entertainment and ABC Studios on Thursday were combined into a new unit, ABC Entertainment Group. ABC Entertainment president McPherson was named president of the division, adding oversight of the studio to his ABC duties.

Mark Pedowitz, president of ABC Studios for the past five years, is segueing into a new role as senior adviser to Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney-Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television Group.

The ABC/ABC Studios merger comes on the heels of a similar move last month by NBC, which saw Angela Bromstad take over scripted programming of NBC and Universal Media Studios. That restructuring led to a mass exodus of top executives from both the network and the studio.

While Disney CFO Tom Staggs last month hinted of upcoming cost-cutting measures at ABC, Sweeney on Thursday stressed that the restructuring is not about belt-tightening but about "an opportunity to coalesce the creative process dictating this change in structure."

For now, ABC Entertainment and ABC Studios will continue to function as separate entities with separate development departments, at least through the end of the current pilot season. (At NBC, the comedy and drama departments were merged.)

There will be no immediate layoffs, but the option remains on the table while McPherson takes a few months to integrate the network and the studio with input from Pedowitz.

As with the NBC/UMS merger, as part of ABC Entertainment Group, ABC Studios' new mandate will be to develop and produce series for ABC.

The studio already produces ABC's biggest shows, including "Desperate Housewives," "Lost" and "Grey's Anatomy." But in the past few years, it also has branched out with CBS dramas "Criminal Minds" and "Ghost Whisperer," cable series "Army Wives" for Lifetime and "Kyle XY" for ABC Family and its first syndication series, "Legend of the Seeker."

ABC brass was quick to point out that while development for other outlets will be dramatically scaled back, "when appropriate, the studio will look for outside opportunities."

The impetus for the restructuring was Pedowitz's contract, which was up in February. Sweeney used the renegotiations of his deal as an opportunity to realign the broadcast divisions.

For the past few years, McPherson had made it clear he wanted to add oversight of ABC Studios. That was originally expected to happen when he renewed his contract with the network in May.

There had been chatter about friction between McPherson and Pedowitz, but both enjoy strong support from Sweeney, who had been seeking ways to keep both in the ABC family.

Pedowitz, who has inked a new contract, is an 18-year ABC veteran and a highly regarded business exec who crafted key TV deal templates — including extended license term contracts between networks and studios and download pacts with iTunes — that have become industry standards.

In his new role, Pedowitz will work alongside Sweeney on business, labor relations and emerging media issues.