Disney taps news exec to run TV biz

Ben Sherwood (center) and attends Junior Hollywood Radio and Television Society Presents Censorship, Free Speech & Political Discourse at the Creative Artists Agency Ray Kurtzman Theatre on January 16, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.

Ben Sherwood, currently head of ABC’s news division, will take over as president of Disney/ABC Television Group, giving him oversight of the broadcast network as well as the cable assets. It was under Sherwood’s watch that ABC’s Good Morning America topped NBC’s Today Show, a hugely profitable win.

Sherwood is not the first newsie thrown into running a whole network. It hasn’t always gone well, but Disney’s hoping Sherwood will be like Howard Stringer, another former news chief who went on to successful runs leading CBS and Sony.

Disney has some high performing cable channels, but its flagship broadcast network is hurting. Sherwood will need to find new winning comedies and deal with the problems hurting other networks, especially audience fragmentation online and difficulty attracting young male viewers.

Mark Garrison: Sherwood’s credited with powering ABC’s Good Morning America to the top, a hugely profitable win. He’s not the first newsie thrown into running a whole network. NBC tried it, when it tapped Today Show producer Jeff Zucker. But it didn’t go well, says TV news analyst Andrew Tyndall.

Andrew Tyndall: It turns out that in the programming of NBC, when Zucker was in control, his prime time programming moves were not successful at all and then he ended up back in a journalistic institution, which is CNN.

Disney’s betting that Sherwood will be more like Howard Stringer, another former news chief who went on to successful runs leading CBS and Sony. Sherwood inherits a mixed bag. Disney has some strong cable channels. But Edward Jones analyst Robin Diedrich says the flagship broadcast network is hurting.

Robin Diedrich: They’ve been declining over the last several years and that’s really keeping in step, though, with the broader industry. So we see ABC kind of in line with the group from that standpoint.

The network has hits, but also holes.

Brad Adgate: One area would be comedy. Modern Family is obviously Emmy Award-winning comedy year in and year out. But it’s entering its sixth season. They really haven’t had too much success creating a comedy block.

Horizon Media’s Brad Adgate says Sherwood could set himself apart by solving a puzzle all networks now struggle with.

Adgate: One of the goals has been to get scripted shows for men, particularly young men, but, you know, they’re hard to reach and harder to reach on television.

That’s because they’re online, like so many other viewers. And that’s another challenge, herding those eyeballs into Disney’s tent. In New York, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.

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