Tarses Resigns as Head of ABC Entertainment
Jamie Tarses’ three-year run as president of ABC Entertainment--which began tumultuously and seemed to seldom stray from that course--has come to an equally messy conclusion, with the 35-year-old executive resigning Thursday, just days after the network denied the latest report she would be forced out.
As the first woman to head a network entertainment division, and one of the youngest executives to do so when chosen at age 32, Tarses has been closely scrutinized during her tenure. Her resignation is effective immediately and comes less than a month before the official start of the new television season.
Tarses’ departure stems from discord caused by Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner’s decision to combine management of ABC Entertainment and the studio’s production unit, Buena Vista Television Group. This was a step undertaken both to cut costs and to facilitate the flow of programming produced by Disney to ABC.
After enduring previous rumors that she would be ousted, Tarses sounded relieved to be going. “I can’t tell you how happy I am,” she said in an interview.
The repeated speculation about her status, she said, is “something that I never signed on for and couldn’t get away from. . . . I just don’t want to play anymore. The work is a blast. The rest of this nonsense I don’t need.”
Tarses said she has made no plans and intends to take some time off. Nearly two years remain on her contract at more than $1 million a year, and sources say she will receive a sizable settlement.
ABC ordered just one new Disney-supplied show for its fall prime-time lineup, fueling tension between the units. Since Disney announced the units would be merged, Tarses is said to have clashed with former Buena Vista TV Chairman Lloyd Braun, who was installed above her as co-chairman of the ABC Entertainment Television Group alongside her existing boss, Stu Bloomberg.
“The personalities didn’t seem to be meshing,” said one network source. Insiders say Tarses even refused at one point to speak to Braun, who had once been her attorney.
The situation boiled over Monday, when Newsweek posted a story on its Web site indicating Tarses would be asked to resign. After meeting with the management team Monday, ABC Group Chairman Robert Iger issued a statement saying, “It is simply untrue.”
Iger declined to comment regarding that contradiction Thursday, but network sources insist he was still trying to find some accommodation among the executives and that the story was leaked prematurely by someone who wanted to influence the outcome.
“Someone really had it out for her,” said one executive at another studio.
ABC Television Network President Pat Fili-Krushel indicated that Tarses’ position would “probably not” be filled, meaning Bloomberg and Braun will absorb her duties.
There has been conjecture Tarses might eventually become a producer or join David Janollari--the former Warner Bros. executive she worked with in developing “Friends"--and Fox alumnus Bob Greenblatt in their production company, which produces two ABC series and is bankrolled by News Corp.'s Fox Television Studios. Tarses indicated, however, that no such discussions have taken place.
ABC continues to rank third in the prime-time standings, both among adults ages 18 to 49--the demographic most avidly sought by advertisers--and total viewers. No drama series developed under Tarses’ aegis have been renewed for a second season, though ABC has launched the popular comedy “Dharma & Greg” as well as more marginally successful sitcoms.
Tarses, the daughter of television producer Jay Tarses, started at NBC shortly after graduating from Williams College. After a string of promotions, she became the network’s head of comedy development, overseeing the creation of such signature shows as “Friends” and “Frasier.”
Media focus on Tarses was heightened by the machinations that brought her to ABC from NBC, spurring a feud between the two networks. Tarses’ recruitment by then-Disney executive Michael Ovitz in 1996 triggered near-warfare with NBC West Coast President Don Ohlmeyer.
For all her previous success as a program developer, ABC’s decision to hire Tarses was seen as a leap given her lack of experience dealing with affiliates, advertisers and the media--all significant aspects of the top entertainment-division job.
Tarses was almost immediately the subject of rumors she might be let go, which peaked when ABC added a layer of management over her in 1997 by naming Bloomberg chairman of ABC Entertainment. That was followed by an unflattering New York Times Magazine profile in which Tarses angered Iger by allowing a reporter to listen in during phone calls to him.
While many assumed Bloomberg’s promotion would prompt Tarses’ exit, the two settled into what they characterized as a comfortable working relationship. Even so, the structure confused many in Hollywood’s production community, who were often unsure which executive they should approach with new programming ideas.
All told, as many as 50 positions will be eliminated in connection with the ABC and Buena Vista TV Group move. ABC’s heads of casting and drama series development are among the senior executives who have lost their jobs.