Reexamining ABC News’ Recent Senior Leadership Changes

By Alex Weprin 

On August 26, ABC News president David Westin announced a new senior leadership structure at the division.

At the time, it seemed as though Westin was taking a more hands-on approach to ABC News programs, with the EPs of “World News,” “GMA” and “Nightline” reporting directly to him.

In hindsight, however, the rearranging takes on a very different appearance.

In his memo to staff yesterday, Westin says that he told Disney-ABC TV chief Anne Sweeney and Disney CEO Bob Iger of his decision “a month ago.”

In other words, the new leadership stricture was put together with the knowledge that Westin would be leaving the company.

So what can we take away from all this?

The new structure expands the oversight of many senior producers and executives. So while Westin theoretically was taking a more hands-on approach to certain areas of the division, the rearrangement also allows for more autonomy among the individual shows and divisions.

There is also no clear #2, which is not surprising, seeing as Westin’s top deputy, Dave Davis, left ABC News to go to WABC in July.

It would seem that the new structure would seem to support an outsider coming in to take over. With streamlined direct reports and more autonomy among the programs, someone could come in and learn the business, hopefully with minimal disruption to the actual programming.

Disney is well-known for promoting from within the company, but outside the division. In July ABC’s entertainment chief Steve McPherson was pushed out, and replaced by ABC Family president Paul Lee. Lee was replaced by Disney radio chief Michael Riley. Earlier this year Dick Cook, the head of the Disney movie studio, was replaced by Rich Ross, the head of Disney Channel, who had no film experience. Last year, Disney’s CFO became head of the company’s theme parks division, while the theme park chief became CFO.

Given that history, don’t be surprised if the new head of ABC News is from somewhere else within the Disney family… although not from within ABC News. Stay tuned, TVNewser will have a poll later today.