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ABC’s biggest mystery: Why did Steve McPherson leave?

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The biggest cliffhanger in television this week is what prompted combative ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson to throw in the towel and make a swift exit.

ABC owner Walt Disney Co. declined Wednesday to say what brought about McPherson’s departure, which came just two months before the start of the fall TV season -- and days before he was scheduled to tout the network’s new lineup to some 200 television industry writers.

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Most people in Hollywood assumed McPherson’s days were numbered because he has been unable to deliver a successful prime-time schedule that built on the success of shows like ‘Desperate Housewives,’ ‘Lost’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ His volatile temper and expletive-laced e-mails won him few fans within family-friendly Disney. Even Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger is said to have respected his talents as a creative executive, but considered him high maintenance, according to people who know both men.

McPherson resigned Tuesday, more than a year before his contract was set to expire. The move came just a day after he returned from vacation, prompting a variety of theories as to the reason. The New York Times reported that ABC was reacting to a ‘delicate personal matter,’ attributing the information to individuals ‘briefed’ on the issue.

On Wednesday, allegations came to light that more than two weeks ago, the ABC human resources department began investigating a complaint lodged against McPherson.

The Hollywood Reporter quoted an unidentified source who said Disney was investigating a complaint of sexual harassment.

McPherson did not respond to a request for comment.

Tom Hoberman, his longtime attorney, declined to answer questions about the possibility that a personnel matter had forced McPherson’s hand. At the end of the day, McPherson’s newly hired publicist, Stan Rosenfield, issued a brief statement.

‘Upon Steve McPherson returning to work from his vacation on Monday, he made a voluntary decision to resign and ABC accepted his resignation,’ Hoberman wrote in an e-mail. ‘It is not uncommon for high level executives to be the subject of gossip and innuendo. That would includes rumors of internal situations which can easily be misinterpreted or misrepresented. Seems like it goes with the territory, and there is nothing further to discuss.’

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski and Meg James.

Related:

Entertainment chief’s exit ends a stormy era at ABC


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