ABC News Chief Ben Sherwood: No More Layoffs, But Change Needs to Come to the Broadcast News Division

By Alex Weprin 

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This morning, new ABC News president Ben Sherwood kicked off ABC’s day of presentations at the Television Critics Association Winter press tour in Pasadena.

Sherwood told the assembled critics that there were no more layoffs in store at the news division, which saw hundreds of employees leave the company through buyouts and layoffs last year.

Sherwood also said he and Disney-ABC TV chief Anne Sweeney were interested in finding some sort of partner for ABC News, be it a cable network like Bloomberg TV or a digital partner like Facebook.

“If we can partner on the digital side or the cable side, we must do that,” Sherwood said, adding with regards to Bloomberg: “How can you not think about partnering with an organization that has had the success Bloomberg has?”

That jives with what Sweeney told Broadcasting & Cable in an interview today(subscription required):

“We’re very opportunistic. As we see opportunities to work together, we’ll certainly be talking to [Bloomberg] again, because we have tremendous respect for their business news.”

Sweeney also told B&C that with Sherwood and new ABC entertainment chief Paul Lee (a former BBC journalist) in charge, she did not expect the tension between ABC Entertainment and ABC News that existed when Steve McPherson and David Westin ran the divisions:

Early on in Paul’s tenure, the Chilean miners were trapped and the world was waiting to see them emerge, and I think Paul’s background at BBC News really came into play. He ran down the hall with [ABC scheduling chief] Jeff Bader and said, “What does News need? These men are going to be coming back to us tonight, and what should we be doing?” I think Paul’s news background will prove very helpful to Ben. And I think since Ben has spent time in the entertainment space—let’s not forget, he wrote a couple of books and one was made into movie—Ben does understand the world that Paul is operating in as well.

McPherson was vocal in his belief that the 11:30 PM timeslot should be under the jurisdiction of ABC Entertainment, where he could plug in a late night show like “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” For years, ABC has aired “Nightline” in the time period, where it has done well against the late night comedy competition, albeit with a few asterisks.

Sweeney told B&C she does not expect any late night changes.

Still, Sweeney and Sherwood indicated that there could be some changes coming to ABC News more generally.

When pressed whether ABC News would add some opinion programming, as MSNBC and Fox News have, Sweeney said it was a possibility, though it would have to be clearly defined:

“I think there is a place for opinion, but you have to be very careful when you’re reporting the news to make sure you are reporting the news,” she said, adding “I think Fox News is a very different brand than ABC News. And Fox News is clearly more comfortable with, and has the time to put on, opinion shows that we would not be running on [our] network. ”

Sherwood also said he wants to retool “This Week,” to highlight the talents of Christiane Amanpour, whom he called a “prodigious reporter.” He also praised Jake Tapper, who he praised as a standard-bearer for what a broadcast network journalist should be.

That said, Sherwood said there are no plans to give Tapper “This Week,” which he guest-hosted leading up to Amanpour’s debut.

The ABC News president also outlined three themes he wants to focus on at ABC News, “Unity,” “Creativity” and”Reach,” which you can read about here.

(Photo courtesy of ABC/Rick Rowell)