Breaking with the networks’ standard practice of promoting from within the programming ranks, Capital Cities/ABC Inc. on Thursday named Robert Iger from its business affairs side as president of the entertainment division.
The 38-year-old former executive vice president of the ABC Television Network Group immediately declared, “I do not come in with a program strategy.”
In an interview from his New York office, the one-time manager of “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” acknowledged that while his expertise lies in the “day-to-day workings of the network,” he is “an obvious newcomer” to the process of prime-time programming.
“I come to this job clearly with a great degree of inexperience in the entertainment field,” he said. “I have a lot to learn.”
Iger disputed speculation that Capital Cities/ABC management was stressing bottom-line considerations over creative experience and working relationships with the Hollywood community in its top programming executive.
“I do not come in with any game plan having to be handed to me by the management of the company,” he stressed.
And he indicated that his unfamiliarity with entertainment programming would help give him a sense of independence in his new position. “If there’s one thing that I bring to this job, in terms of my point of view, it’s that I’m my own person. And if people are wise, they’ll wait to judge me when they see me.”
Iger said he has asked his predecessor, Brandon Stoddard, who stepped down Tuesday to become president of ABC’s in-house production division, to stay on through the process of choosing the fall schedule “so he can bring into it his knowledge and experience,” Iger declared. “It’s a very delicate time. And the important thing to emphasize is I will not disrupt the process one bit. Of course, there’s a natural disruption caused by the change. But I’m going to do whatever I can to reduce that.”
But Iger also made it clear that he, and not Stoddard, would be mapping out the new season’s line-up. Asked if Stoddard would bear the responsibility for the schedule, Iger replied curtly: “I did not say that.”
Marcy Carsey, executive producer of ABC’s hit show “Roseanne,” predicted that Stoddard would be working closely with Iger in coming weeks. “I just know that if I were (Capital Cities/ABC executives) John Sias or Tom Murphy or Daniel Burke, I would be at Brandon’s house seeking his advice. I can’t believe they won’t,” she said.
Meanwhile, ABC executives confirmed Thursday that Stuart Bloomberg, now vice president of comedy development, will be given expanded responsibilities and put in charge of series programming. Bloomberg has been credited with developing the highly rated half-hour sitcoms--"Roseanne,” “Who’s the Boss,” “Growing Pains” and the new “Anything But Love"--which have been the network’s only real prime-time successes in recent years.
Iger said that Bloomberg’s promotion will help the company “use the talents he has demonstrated towards other areas.”
“Bob will be working very closely with Stu,” one ABC executive added. “What you want here is a combination of someone who has a broad overview of the business and someone with creative operating experience.”
The fact that much of Stoddard’s management team, including Bloomberg and senior vice president for programming Ted Harbert, will remain intact under Iger helped ease some of the concern within the Hollywood creative community about the change of leadership.
“I don’t feel particularly nervous because the people who were there are still there,” noted Carsey. “But I’m sure some people will feel uneasy.”
Iger’s career at ABC has been nothing short of meteoric. After joining ABC-TV in July, 1974 as a studio supervisor, the Ithaca College graduate moved to ABC Sports two years later and then became manager and director of “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”
In January, 1985, he was named vice president of program planning and development for ABC Sports, where he was in charge of scheduling and rights acquisitions. Iger was actively involved in three Olympic telecasts and was responsible for the scheduling of the 1988 Calgary Winter Games.
ABC executives say it was Iger’s unusual combination of management experience and creative instincts that led Capital Cities/ABC to select him last August as executive vice president of the ABC Television Network Group without even a formal interview. In that role, Iger was responsible for the East and West Coast business affairs departments. He also worked closely with daytime programming.
In addition, Iger described himself as “playing traffic cop to the network’s news, sports and entertainment divisions to make sure they don’t collide in the middle of an intersection in their push for programming.”
John Sias, president of the ABC Television Network Group, said Thursday that Iger’s experience at the network has left him able to “understand a great deal about the network processes, mentalities and audiences. He has worked very successfully with a wide range of people in the network, including people in programming, and wears very well.”
Sias also pointed out that Iger’s “taste level” in terms of television programming is “very compatible” with Stoddard’s.
And Iger stressed Thursday that he intends to “maintain Brandon’s legacy in terms of quality programming. He has left us a very solid rapport with the Hollywood community and a very, very solid programming schedule. If I can do all those things, I’ll walk out with my head high.”
But Iger also acknowledged that in terms of personality, he’s “very different” from Stoddard. One immediate change is that he doesn’t intend to imitate Stoddard’s publicity-shy ways and noted that he always has been accessible to the press.
Still, he admitted that the public attention that will be showered on him is daunting after “having toiled in relative obscurity in the past.”
He got his first taste of it when, even before his appointment was official, he received a flood of calls this week from Los Angeles real estate brokers. “I have to applaud them for their extraordinary business tactics,” he laughed. “I hope I can match that.”