Ben Sherwood Named Top Dog at Disney/ABC Television Group

News chief to succeed Anne Sweeney in 2015

The Walt Disney Co. announced today that it has named ABC News president Ben Sherwood the successor to Anne Sweeney. Effective Feb. 1, 2015, Sherwood will assume the title of co-chairman, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney/ABC Television Group.  

Sherwood will continue to oversee ABC News until a replacement is found. The 50-year-old has steered the network’s news division since December 2010; two years after he took the reins, the perennial also-ran Good Morning America beat NBC’s Today in the ratings for the first time in more than 16 seasons.

In many ways, Sherwood’s news-centric résumé puts one in mind of a Jeff Zucker, although his progress up the entertainment ladder has been much more deliberate. (Zucker was just 35 when he was named NBC’s entertainment president in 2000.)

“Ben is one of those unique executives who combines rich creative experience with great business acumen,” said Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger, by way of making the announcement. “He’s also focused, strategic and competitive, as evidenced by the success of GMA, the Yahoo deal that delivered ABC News’ online dominance and his vision behind our new cable and digital joint venture, Fusion. These reasons, and many others, make Ben the ideal candidate to oversee the future of the Disney/ABC Television Group.”

News of Sherwood’s promotion comes just two weeks after Sweeney announced that she was leaving Disney to become a television director. 

For her part, Sweeney said she “could not be more thrilled” by her successor. “It was Ben’s intense passion and incredible insight that made us confident he’d do great things as president of ABC News,” she said. “Over the years, he has moved from success to success and helped create a more vibrant, collaborative and powerful news division that embraces innovation and risk taking. Ben’s now set to bring those same attributes to bear for the larger group.”

Sweeney broke the news to Disney staffers in a memo released earlier today. 

Sherwood began his journalistic career when he joined ABC News in 1989, serving as an investigative associate producer and producer for PrimeTime Live with anchors Diane Sawyer and Sam Donaldson. In 1997, he left ABC to join NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, where he rose to the position of senior broadcast producer.

Sherwood returned to ABC News in April 2004 as executive producer of GMA. During the same year in which he assumed oversight of the entire news division, Sherwood’s novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud was adapted as a feature film from Universal Pictures.

“I am honored and humbled that Bob has entrusted me with this great responsibility and amazing opportunity,” Sherwood said. “I’m also deeply grateful to Anne, who has built and led a powerhouse division over the last 10 years. I am looking forward to her counsel and wisdom during this transition period.” 

Shares of Disney were down $0.84, or 1.04 percent, to $79.51, in early-afternoon trading.