Walt Disney Co. has tapped ABC News President Ben Sherwood to succeed Anne Sweeney next year as co-chairman, Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney/ABC Television Group.
In his new role, Sherwood will have oversight over not only the ABC broadcast network and its local television stations, but also its entertainment cable outlets including the Disney Channel and ABC Family. Disney’s ESPN empire remains under John Skipper, who is the other co-chairman of Disney Media Networks.
Sherwood, who was named president of ABC News in December of 2010, was seen as the leading candidate to replace Sweeney, who this month announced her plans to step down in February 2015 to pursue a creative career.
“Ben is one of those unique executives who combine rich creative experiences with great business acumen,” said Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Bob Iger, to whom Sherwood will report.
Sherwood is credited with turning around ABC’s morning program “Good Morning America,” which has overtaken its archrival -- NBC’s “Today” -- in viewers and key demographics. ABC’s “World News Tonight” has also seen its fortunes improve on Sherwood’s watch. Since Sherwood took over ABC News, the unit has won eight Emmy Awards and three Peabody Awards.
No successor for Sherwood was named by ABC as he officially won’t take over for Sweeney for almost a year. James Goldston, ABC News senior vice president for content and development, is considered the likely choice for the job, network insiders said.
Sherwood was seen as an unusual choice when Sweeney tapped him to succeed David Westin as head of ABC News. Although he was a well-respected news producer who held senior positions at ABC and NBC News, he also has a creative streak. Sherwood has written two novels including “The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud,” which was made into a movie.
Sweeney initially sought Sherwood’s counsel on potential heads of ABC News. After several conversations, she ended up offering him the job.
“Over the years, he has moved from success to success, and helped create a more vibrant, collaborative and powerful news division that embraces innovation and risk-taking,” Sweeney said in a statement.