E-mails focus of Steve McPherson probe

THR EXCLUSIVE: Account suspended during investigation

The story behind ABC Entertainment chief Steve McPherson's departure from his job apparently was more dramatic than previously believed, THR has learned.

Despite some reports that McPherson never returned to the office from his vacation in Maine, sources said he went to work Monday and left after a confrontation with Disney executives.

Sources said that while McPherson was on vacation, Disney was reviewing e-mails as part of an investigation apparently triggered by a complaint from a female executive. His e-mail account was promptly suspended. Sources said the alleged incidents involved several women, including executives and on-air talent. THR has no knowledge that the allegations are true.

In a letter received by THR, attorney Martin Singer says, "The undisputed fact as confirmed by ABC is that it was my client's decision to voluntarily resign his position." The letter additionally claims that an earlier THR story about the investigation at Disney is "fiction" and asserts that the story's anonymous sources might be due to his client's "strong personality" and "tension" between McPherson and "other executives at ABC."

On Wednesday, McPherson attorney Tom Hoberman issued a statement that read: "Upon Steve McPherson returning to work from his vacation on Monday, he made a voluntary decision to resign, and ABC accepted his resignation. It is not uncommon for high-level executives to be the subject of gossip and innuendo. That would include rumors of internal situations which can easily be misinterpreted or misrepresented. Seems like it goes with the territory, and there is nothing further to discuss."

In the aftermath of McPherson's departure -- days before ABC presents its fall schedule to critics gathered for their summer meeting in Beverly Hills -- numerous Hollywood executives said McPherson's volcanic temper had hardly been a secret inside or out of the company. One former ABC executive said colleagues called him "Purple Steve" in an allusion to his outbursts.

"He's a man of extremes," a former associate said.

Others said McPherson's mood could be so dark that employees who worked nearby would signal others whether to approach his office or wait for another day.

But a number of former ABC insiders said Disney was long aware of his temper and that they doubted Disney would have acted had McPherson produced hit ratings for the network. "None of it matters when you're delivering hits," one said.

When announcing his unexpected resignation this week, McPherson said he would continue with a wine business and that he would be involved in a new media company. ABC Family chief Paul Lee is expected to take his place.