McPherson Out at ABC, What Does It Mean for Nightline?

By Alex Weprin 

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Yesterday Steve McPherson, ABC’s President of Entertainment, submitted his resignation. The shakeup took the media world by surprise last night. McPherson says he plans to start a new media company, and a “new entrepreneurial venture in the spirits business.”

In the TV news world, McPherson was known to be a vocal critic of “Nightline” at 11:35 p.m., arguing that the time period should belong to the entertainment division of ABC, in order to better compete with “The Tonight Show” and “Late Show.”

In 2008, when it looked like Jay Leno would become available once Conan O’Brien took over “Tonight,” McPherson said that putting a comedy program at 11:35 was a “huge possibility,” and that late night in general was “a growth area for us.”

Of course, the decision to move “Nightline” to another slot would had to have come from Anne Sweeney, who oversees the Disney-ABC TV group, and to whom both McPherson and ABC News chief David Westin report.

So will McPherson’s apparent replacement, ABC Family president Paul Lee, fight as hard to bring “Nightline”‘s time period to the entertainment side of the company? It is far too soon to tell, but if anyone could appreciate what “Nightline” brings to ABC, it is Lee.

As this 2008 profile notes, Lee got his start in television as a journalist and documentary filmmaker for the BBC, eventually moving stateside as the founding GM of BBC America.