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Thomopoulos Resigns as Head of ABC Unit

Changes at American Broadcasting Cos., long expected as a result of the pending merger with Capital Cities Communications, surfaced Monday with the resignation of Anthony D. Thomopoulos as president of ABC Broadcast Group. In addition, sources confirmed that high-level television programming responsibilities soon will be handed to Brandon Stoddard, president of ABC Motion Pictures.

Thomopoulos said that his resignation, effective immediately, came in anticipation of a “new era” at ABC and a restructuring of the company after Capital Cities completes its friendly, $3.5-billion takeover after the first of the year. He also cited his desire to relocate to Los Angeles, where his new wife, Cristina Ferrare, is co-host of “A.M. Los Angeles” on KABC-TV.

Frederick S. Pierce, president and chief operating officer of ABC, said the broadcasting divisions that previously reported to Thomopoulos--entertainment, news, sports, TV operations and radio--will now report to him.

The network was less forthcoming about plans for Stoddard, but several industry sources who deal directly with ABC said Monday that a move by Stoddard into an expanded executive role overseeing ABC Entertainment is virtually a fait accompli. The sources said that ABC for some time has been trying to find a position suitable for Stoddard, one at least a notch higher than the position now held by ABC Entertainment President Lewis H. Erlicht.

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At least one source said that Erlicht, whose position has been in jeopardy since ABC’s slide last season to third place in prime-time ratings, would be retained in some capacity.

ABC recently announced the dissolution of ABC Motion Pictures, which Stoddard had presided over since its inception in 1979. In making that announcement, the network stated that Stoddard would continue to supervise its made-for-TV film production and the activities of the ABC Circle Films production entity, which produces TV movies, miniseries and the series “Moonlighting.”

Thomopoulos, a 12-year veteran of ABC who was named president of the broadcast group when it was created in June, 1983, said in an interview that the network’s current ratings position “had nothing to do” with his decision to leave.

However, the “new era” referred to by Thomopoulos is expected to be one of increased cost-consciousness on the part of Cap Cities, whose management is not likely to tolerate the network’s poor performance. Though programming such as the World Series and the recent miniseries “North and South” provided a ratings boost, the most recent appraisal by the A. C. Nielsen service found only five regularly scheduled ABC prime-time series finishing in the top half of the weekly series ranking.

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