ABC Family narrows list of candidates for new president

Walt Disney Co.'s ABC Family channel is closing in on naming a new president, people familiar with the matter said.

The position has been open since September, when Michael Riley said he was resigning to return to his native England. ABC Family is known for its shows aimed at teenagers, particularly girls, including “Pretty Little Liars,” “Melissa and Joey” and “Twisted.”

Among the candidates topping Disney’s short list are Salaam Coleman Smith, who had headed NBCUniversal’s Style Network until the channel was rebranded this fall as the Esquire Network and put under new management. Coleman Smith is also a former programming executive at E! and prior to that was at Nickelodeon.


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Christina Norman, former president of OWN, the cable network headed by Oprah Winfrey and Discovery Communications, also has been mentioned as a Riley replacement. Besides having run OWN, Norman is a former MTV Networks president and currently is executive editor for Huffington Post BlackVoices.

Another name that has surfaced is Dave Howe, currently president of NBCUniversal’s Syfy channel. Though on the surface the jump from Syfy to ABC Family might seem unusual, Howe has boosted the channel’s ratings among ABC Family’s core audience of women with the drama “Eureka” and the reality show “Ghost Hunters.” An executive close to Howe noted that he is under contract at NBCUniversal.

Of the three candidates, Coleman Smith is seen by Disney insiders as the likeliest choice as she has ties to Sweeney and a background that includes programming and business. She also has a solid track record with reality programming, an area in which ABC Family could use help.

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While many have speculated that Kate Juergens, ABC Family’s chief creative officer and head of programming, was a logical choice to succeed Riley, she apparently will continue to stay focused on the content side of the channel.

Anne Sweeney, the co-chair of Disney Media Networks, and president of Disney/ABC Television Group, is overseeing the search and has been hands-on in the recruiting process. The search firm of Egon Zehnder has done work on the search. Coleman Smith has ties to Sweeney.

Neither Norman nor Coleman Smith could be reached for comment. Howe declined to comment. A Walt Disney Co. spokesperson declined to comment.

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