Ben Sherwood Talks Harvey Weinstein, TV Past and Future at USC Conference

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The Disney/ABC Television Group president presented a wide-ranging Q&A on the business of the small screen on Saturday.

Disney/ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood offered a wide-ranging take on the TV business in conversation with premier entertainment lawyer Bruce Ramer of Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown at the USC Entertainment Institute on Saturday.

The multitalented executive — a Harvard graduate and Rhodes scholar who is also a novelist and former journalist — showed up in a tie in front of a room filled with 800 or so entertainment lawyers and others who were generally more casually dressed.

He explained that he wore the tie out of respect: "In my childhood, lawyers were superheroes. Justice, justice shall you pursue," he added in a quotation from Deuteronomy. The always-impish Ramer responded that "that should cover Temple for most of us."

Ramer moved on to the future of network broadcast television. "Is broadcast television a car or a horse?" he asked insistently.

"Broadcast TV is still the only way into 125 million homes," Sherwood answered. He noted that people watch almost 5 1/2 hours of video per day and said that ABC "will always have its fair share" of that allotment, as long as it makes compelling programs.

He cited CBS' Young Sheldon, NBC's Will & Grace and his own network's The Good Doctor as examples of shows that are drawing large audiences, without acknowledging that their audiences were far smaller than those of popular shows in the past. He added that network TV shows are the most popular content on Netflix.

"I don't think of Netflix as friend or foe," Sherwood said. "I think of Netflix as a valued customer."

But Ramer, noting that ABC Studios produces six Marvel-character-based shows for Netflix, asked, "Are you sleeping with the enemy with Netflix?" Sherwood reiterated his answer and noted that ABC also produces shows for CBS and Showtime, among others.

Ramer then turned to the topic of Harvey Weinstein and noted the power differential between men and women in the entertainment industry. Sherwood acknowledged that "there is a serious issue that needs to be addressed" and expressed his support for the women who have come forward. He also noted a number of high-level ABC television executives who are women, including his immediate past predecessor, Anne Sweeney.

Commenting on Sherwood's background as a producer of Good Morning America and the president of NBC News, Ramer asked him to comment on newsgathering today.

"I'm jealous," said Sherwood. "This is an unbelievable moment to be a journalist."

He added, "There are stories [today] no one has ever seen before."