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Disney Shakes Up ABC Top Management

The Walt Disney Co. has made some sweeping changes this week in the top executive ranks at the ABC network. Anne Sweeney and George Bodenheimer have been named co-chairs of Disney's Media Networks unit. Sweeney will be adding the ABC Television Network, which includes ABC Entertainment, ABC Daytime, ABC News and Touchstone Television to her portfolio of responsibilities, while Bodenheimer remains head of ESPN Inc. and ABC Sports.

Sweeney will retain all of her current areas with day-to-day responsibility for Disney Channel Worldwide to be handled by Rich Ross, who becomes president, Disney Channel Worldwide. Stephen McPherson has been named president, ABC Primetime Entertainment; Mark Pedowitz was named president, Touchstone Television and evp, ABC Entertainment Television Group while Paul Lee joins the company as president of ABC Family. All report to Sweeney.

Sweeney and Bodenheimer report to Disney president/coo Robert Iger. "Anne is recognized throughout the entertainment industry as one of the most strategic, forward-thinking and creative executives in the business today. At ABC Cable Networks Group, her impressive business acumen and track-record, particularly in growing Disney Channel from a modest pay channel into a basic cable service with more than 84 million subscribers, have proven her strength as a long-term strategist with a focus on quality programming and financial performance. We are confident that Anne's outstanding creativity, management style and leadership abilities will be invaluable to the ABC Television Network."

Also in the new structure, Alex Wallau was named president, ABC Network Operations and Administration, to oversee news, BO&E, ad sales, affiliate relations and the integration of ABC Sports with the ABC TV Network. Brian Frons will remain president of ABC Daytime. Both will report to Sweeney.

Lloyd Braun, chairman, ABC Entertainment Television Group, and Susan Lyne, president of ABC Entertainment Television, have left the company.

Sweeney was named president of the ABC Cable Networks Group and president of Disney Channel Worldwide in 1998 after serving as president, Disney Channel, and evp, Disney/ABC Cable Networks since February 1996. As president of Disney Channel, Sweeney headed one of the fastest growing networks in cable, the only full-time general entertainment television network designed for kids and families.

Under her leadership, Disney Channel grew its subscriber base from 14 million to more than 84 million homes with its mix of kid and family entertainment. In April 1998, Sweeney oversaw the successful launch of the all-animation channel Toon Disney, and, in January 2000, she oversaw the launch of SOAPnet.

Sweeney joined the company from FX Networks, Inc. where she had been chairman/ceo since 1993. During her tenure at FX, Sweeney presided over the launch of two basic cable networks: FX, an entertainment network representing the most successful basic cable launch in history; and FXM: Movies from Fox, Hollywood's first studio-based movie network. Prior to joining Fox in 1993, Sweeney spent 12 years at Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite in a variety of positions including the international expansion of Nickelodeon in the U.K.

New primetime chief McPherson will oversee all development, current programming, marketing and scheduling for the primetime division of the ABC Television Network. In making the announcement, Sweeney said, "Steve has had an unparalleled track record of creative success over the past several years as head of Touchstone Television. His ability to identify and shepherd programming through all stages of development makes him uniquely qualified for this opportunity."

As president of Touchstone Television, a role he assumed in June of 2001, McPherson oversaw a renaissance at the production company, with the past two development seasons (2002-03 and 2003-04) being the most successful in the 19-year history of the studio, according to a Disney statement. During his tenure, he was responsible for all day-to-day operations of the studio, including the development and production of the division's network primetime series, specials and films.

Current Touchstone comedy series include 8 SIMPLE RULES, ACCORDING TO JIM, HOPE & FAITH, MY WIFE AND KIDS, IT'S ALL RELATIVE, LIFE WITH BONNIE, LESS THAN PERFECT and SCRUBS. Touchstone-produced dramas include the critically acclaimed ALIAS, LINE OF FIRE and STEPHEN KING'S KINGDOM HOSPITAL.

Touchstone also produces (with Bruckheimer Films and CBS Productions) the popular CBS reality show THE AMAZING RACE, which was recently picked up for a fifth installment. Additionally, Touchstone developed USA Cable Network's award-winning drama series, MONK, and the studio is also a producer on the late night talk show JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE.

Prior to joining Touchstone Television, McPherson was vp, primetime series at NBC, where he oversaw the development and production of such shows as JUST SHOOT ME, NEWSRADIO and THE PRETENDER.

Before joining NBC, McPherson was svp, creative affairs of ABC Prods., where he supervised both comedy and drama series. He also served as director, current programming for FOX, where he helped launch MARTIN and THE BEN STILLER SHOW. He began his industry career as director of development for Witt-Thomas-Harris Productions.

Pedowitz will be responsible for the day-to-day creative and business operations of Touchstone Television and will also oversee all business, legal and financial affairs for ABC Primetime, Touchstone Television and business/legal affairs for ABC Daytime.

"Mark is one of the most gifted, strategic-minded executives in television, said Sweeney. During his tenure with ABC, he has helped craft new business models that address the changing landscape of our industry while simultaneously furthering the goals of our core interests. I'm thrilled that his talents will now be utilized in a creative as well as a business capacity for our company."

As evp, ABC Entertainment Television Group, Pedowitz oversaw all business affairs, production, legal, music, financial and administration duties for the division, encompassing both ABC Primetime and Touchstone Television, in addition to his overview of ABC Late-Night, ABC Kids' programming and business/legal affairs for ABC Daytime. Pedowitz joined ABC in July 1991 as svp, business affairs and contracts.

Prior to joining ABC, he was svp, business affairs and administration, MGM/UA Television Production Group since 1987. He began his career in the entertainment industry in 1979 as an attorney at MCA, Inc., and, from 1980-85 was vp business affairs, Reeves Entertainment Group/Alan Landsburg Productions. From 1985-87, Pedowitz was vp, business affairs and general counsel, The Landsburg Co.

Lee joins Disney as president, ABC Family, overseeing the channel's programming, operations and creative direction.

"Paul is the perfect candidate to build ABC Family into a successful family-focused entertainment channel that bridges the niche of the kid-driven, family inclusive Disney Channel and the broad base of the ABC Television Network," Sweeney said

Lee was ceo of BBC America, leading the company since its launch, where he started as gm/coo. Most recently, the hit comedy series THE OFFICE garnered two Golden Globes. Other shows under Lee's supervision included the BBC's CHANGING ROOMS, which formatted into TLC's signature show TRADING SPACES and the BBC version of WHAT NOT TO WEAR. BBC America, since its initial launch in 1998, has grown to 38 million homes.

Prior to heading BBC America, Lee spent several years at BBC, serving as the producer, exec producer and then channel editor for BBC Prime, the company's 24-hour entertainment channel. He also spent some time making documentaries for BBC News. Before joining BBC in 1984, Lee worked as a production manager at the Brazilian network Rede Globo in Rio de Janeiro.

As president, Disney Channel Worldwide, Ross is responsible for day-to-day management of Disneys wholly-owned basic cable channels for kids and families, Disney Channel and Toon Disney in the U.S., and 22 international Disney Channels, including three Playhouse Disney Channels and three Toon Disney Channels in the U.K., France and Spain; Disney-branded programming blocks in 51 countries reaching 600 million television viewers worldwide; and the company's majority interest in more than a dozen JETIX channels (transitioning from the name FOX Kids Europe and Latin America) and JETIX-branded programming (formerly FOX Kids-branded), distributed to 119 terrestrial, cable and satellite broadcasters operating in over 50 countries across Europe and the Middle East.

Sweeney said, "Rich is an exemplary executive, who has led the Disney Channel team to an all-time high in ratings with preschoolers, kids and families and has increased the overall value of the channel for our cable partners. He consistently puts an emphasis on smart strategy and teamwork and has proven that we can deliver top quality programming for our viewers and profitable franchises for our partners throughout the company. I look forward to his continued leadership and tremendous contribution across a wider area of our business."

Ross joined Disney Channel in 1996 as svp, programming and production, and was named president in 2002. In his most recent position, he oversaw all programming, production and marketing for Disney Channel. Under his leadership, Ross expanded the network's original programming offerings to include such hit shows as LIZZIE MCGUIRE, THAT'S SO RAVEN, DISNEY'S KIM POSSIBLE and THE PROUD FAMILY. He also oversaw the creation of Disney Channel's critically acclaimed learning-based programming block for preschoolers, Playhouse Disney, which includes STANLEY, the Emmy-award winning ROLIE POLIE OLIE and JOJO'S CIRCUS. The block has become the centerpiece for Disney's company-wide initiative to introduce preschoolers to Disney characters, programs and products through learning-based entertainment.

Previously Ross was svp, development and production for FX Networks from 1993-96, where he was a member of the team that launched the cable network. Before joining FX Networks, he was at Nickelodeon from 1986-93, where he most recently served as vp of program enterprises and was involved in all original-programming deals, including those for co-production. He was also part of the launch team for Nickelodeon's first international network, Nickelodeon U.K.