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Reality TV is unforgiving. Little more than a year after joining ABC as the network’s head of alternative and late night, Lisa Berger is out.
The former E! chief leaves the network after 13 months, where her department most notably launched the high-profile summer singing competition Rising Star — which failed to find much of a pulse on Sunday nights. Reality is indeed the dark spot for ABC at the moment. The network, rising to No. 3 status among the Big Four this fall, has had scripted hits in How to Get Away With Murder and Black-ish. Meanwhile, it’s current unscripted offerings are limited to the aging Dancing With the Stars and Friday savior Shark Tank.
Berger’s tenure also saw a lackluster launch in role-playing competition The Quest, but it was Rising Star that stung the most. ABC’s would-be response to NBC’s The Voice or Fox’s American Idol fell flat with audiences — despite the ambitious real-time voting and simultaneous live telecasts across the majority of the contiguous U.S.
ABC’s other unscripted orders of the last year have largely been reliant on preexisting properties. Spinoff The Bachelor in Paradise performed adequately over the summer, enough to warrant a second season renewal. And, after months of speculation, Shark Tank companion Beyond the Tank finally got the green light in October.
Reality problems are obviously not exclusive to ABC. Fox recently bet big (and lost) on social experiment Utopia, and even The Voice has been saddled with double-digit ratings drops during its latest fall cycle.
Berger’s 2013 appointment came during an incredibly tumultuous time among the reality executive ranks. She took the vacancy left by John Saade, who was with the network for nearly a decade, while CBS’ Jennifer Bresnan bowed out to be replaced by Chris Castallo and Simon Andreae was named successor to Fox’s Mike Darnell. Only NBC’s Paul Telegdy remained among the Big Four alternative/reality chiefs.
ABC alternative vice president Rob Mills is expected to oversee the department while a full-time replacement is sought.
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