ABC programming chief Stephen McPherson has abruptly resigned from the network after a six-year tenure in which the network aired such provocative series as "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" but ended last season in third place among the big four networks.
McPherson submitted his resignation as ABC Entertainment Group president and the company accepted, the Disney-ABC Television Group said in a brief statement Tuesday. His replacement will be announced soon, according to the statement, in which McPherson was quoted as thanking the people with whom he'd worked.
Paul Lee, who as president of ABC Family boosted the cable channel's ratings with hits including "The Secret Life of the American Teenager and "Pretty Little Liars," was widely reported to be McPherson's likely successor.
Before joining ABC Family in 2004, Lee was chief executive officer and founder of BBC America. He'd previously worked at the BBC in England and been a reporter, TV producer and director, according to ABC's website.
McPherson's departure from the top programming job at ABC comes just days before the network's presentation of its fall schedule to a meeting of TV reporters and critics. The network is set to bring the cast and producers of new and returning shows to the Television Critics Association gathering Aug. 1 in Beverly Hills.
The fall season begins in September, with ABC's 2010-11 schedule having been assembled by McPherson and featuring new series stars including Matthew Perry, Michael Imperioli, Michael Chiklis and Dana Delany and such offbeat shows as the mock-docmentary series "My Generation" and the comedy-drama "No Ordinary Family."
After taking on the job in 2004, McPherson helped turn ABC around after a disastrous ratings slide caused by his predecessors' over-reliance on multiple nights of the prime-time game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."
He gained ground with innovative and serialized shows including "Lost," "Ugly Betty" and "Brothers and Sisters" in contrast with procedurals such as the "Law & Order" and "CSI" franchises favored by its rival networks. "Dancing with the Stars," which has rivaled top-rated "American Idol," also started airing on ABC under McPherson.
However, unlike its three chief rivals, ABC lost viewers last season as hits like "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" started aging. There also was a failed effort to replace "Lost," which wrapped its run last season, with the similarly mysterious "Flashforward."
Yet the network's biggest risk of last fall — filling Wednesday with four new comedies — was a success. Three of them are returning and one, "Modern Family," is considered one of the freshest new shows on TV.
In a separate statement released by his publicist, McPherson said he would divide his attention for his next business efforts.
"I will be announcing my future plans shortly which will include a new entrepreneurial venture in the spirits business," he said in the statement. "While I will continue with my ongoing wine business, I'll also reveal plans for my involvement in a new media company."
He has wine label called Promise, a Cabernet produced in the Napa Valley region of Northern California.
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.
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