ABC, fighting to avoid another third-place finish in the prime-time ratings, on Tuesday ousted Lewis H. Erlicht as president of ABC Entertainment and named Brandon Stoddard as his successor.
Stoddard, 48, has been president of ABC Motion Pictures and helped develop such hit miniseries as "Roots," "The Winds of War," "The Thorn Birds" and last week's "North and South," and the highly rated TV movie "The Day After."
Erlicht, head of ABC Entertainment since June, 1983, now will become head of ABC Circle Films, in charge of ABC-produced TV movies, miniseries and series, and senior vice president of the division he formerly headed. He will report to Stoddard.
The high-level shake-up followed by one day the departure of Anthony Thomopoulos, president of the ABC Broadcast Group, who resigned Monday in anticipation of a restructuring of the company after its friendly takeover by Capital Cities Communications is completed. Denying that ABC's ratings problems were a factor in his decision, he said that he felt it was time to move on and that he wanted to relocate to Los Angeles to be with his family.
Barring last-minute complications, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to approve Capital Cities' proposed $3.5-billion takeover of ABC on Thursday.
The merging of the two companies is expected to be completed by January, at which time it is believed that ABC's non-broadcast interests will be transferred to a separate division, meaning there will be no need for a Broadcast Group.
An ABC spokesman said that Stoddard's appointment was unrelated to the pending FCC decision, however.
A 15-year veteran of ABC, Stoddard reportedly had turned down a previous offer to head ABC Entertainment, but apparently changed his mind after ABC's recent announcement that it is closing down its theatrical films division. He had headed that division as president of ABC Motion Pictures since May, 1979.
Under his leadership, that division had made six pictures, among them the acclaimed "Silkwood" and "Prizzi's Honor." A seventh film, "SpaceCamp," slated for a summer release, will be the division's last production.
No successor to Stoddard at ABC Motion Pictures has been named, and a network spokesman said it isn't known yet if that post will be filled or if that branch of ABC will continue to exist.
Stoddard, who rarely gives interviews and wasn't available for comment Tuesday, will start work at his new job immediately, said ABC Inc. President Frederick S. Pierce, who announced the appointment in a prepared statement.
Hailing what he called Stoddard's "broad-based" experience, Pierce said that "Brandon has made enormous contributions to the quality of programming in our medium, and it is this quality that will grow to be synonymous with ABC as we regain our leadership position."
A 1958 graduate of Yale who had worked in advertising, Stoddard joined ABC in 1970 as director of daytime programs and moved through a succession of executive posts overseeing dramatic programs, TV movies and miniseries. He is well regarded by many TV producers for his enthusiasm and willingness to take chances, as he did on such unconventional projects as "Roots," "Masada" and "The Day After."
He now will be in charge of all ABC entertainment programming. His biggest immediate challenge will be to try to engineer a rebound in the prime-time ratings.
Under fierce competition from NBC, ABC slipped to third place in the nightly Nielsen ratings last season for the first time in 10 years and has remained there for all but two weeks of the current season.
ABC's coverage of the World Series put it in first place in prime-time ratings last month, and "North and South" propelled it back to first last week. The combination of the two events has moved ABC into a second-place tie with CBS for the season to date, but that is not expected to last because only seven of its series rank in the Top 40. NBC has 19 and CBS has 14.
Erlicht, who has been with ABC for 23 years, was the architect of the network's losing season of 1984-85. Last spring, while not predicting that ABC would recapture second place in the prime-time ratings, he had said that the network would be extremely competitive.
Before becoming president of ABC Entertainment, Erlicht had been senior vice president for prime-time programming, and prior to that was a vice president for programs in New York.