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ABC Family's Chief Expected to Step Down

Angela Shapiro's impending departure had been anticipated since Disney decided to fold it into ABC Cable.

October 27, 2003|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

The president of ABC Family is set to resign in the wake of an organizational shakeup aimed at improving the performance of the Walt Disney Co.-owned cable channel.

Disney is expected to announce this week that Angela Shapiro will step down, sources familiar with the matter said Sunday. Neither Shapiro nor Disney executives would comment.

Shapiro's departure was widely anticipated since the company's announcement earlier this month that it was folding ABC Family into the ABC Cable network group.

The cable group is overseen by Anne Sweeney, whose profile within Disney has been enhanced by the success of the Disney Channel. It has achieved ratings gold with a spate of original series, including "Lizzie McGuire" and "Even Stevens."

ABC Cable group already had been in charge of affiliate sales and marketing, and daily kids programming for ABC Family, which is in 86 million U.S. households.

By placing Sweeney in charge of all programming, Disney effectively scaled back Shapiro's scope of responsibilities, leaving her with a different job than the one to which she was named in March 2002.

Shapiro had previously reported directly to Disney President Bob Iger, and before that to ABC Broadcast Group President Steve Bornstein, who resigned last year.

"It's fair to say that due to the shakeup, she felt the job wasn't what she expected," said one source close to the matter.

Disney executives don't blame Shapiro for ABC Family's problems, many of which she inherited.

Sources said Disney tried to persuade Shapiro to stay on as president or accept some other job within the company.

Disney is trying to turn around the struggling channel it acquired nearly two years ago from News Corp. and Saban Entertainment.

Under competitive pressure from rivals such as then-AOL Time Warner Inc. to expand its media holdings, Disney paid $5.2 billion for the channel. That was far in excess of what the business was worth, many analysts and industry insiders now believe.

At the time, Disney justified the purchase, which included cable businesses in Europe and Latin America, on the grounds that ABC Family would be a key secondary outlet for shows from its ABC network, expanding the audience for new shows.

The channel also was seen as a cable platform that would generate new advertising revenue, adding 81 million domestic subscribers. But it has shown marginal gains in ratings during prime time since the acquisition.

In contrast to Disney-owned ESPN and Disney Channel, which have been big money makers for the company, ABC Family has struggled to find its audience. The same challenge faces other general entertainment cable channels, including USA Network, which is part of the recently announced merger between General Electric-owned NBC and Universal's film, TV and theme park businesses.

One problem for Disney is in the name: ABC Family. That limits the programming.

Shapiro had been working to retool the channel's identity by broadening the concept of family with such shows as "My Life as a Sitcom" and "America's Funniest Family."

Shapiro also has attempted with some success to build up ABC Family's block of teen programs, with such reality/contest shows as "Perfect Match: New York," "Dance Fever" and "Knock First," the teen makeover show by the producers of the hit Bravo show "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

There can't be a total ABC Family makeover. For example, it is contractually obligated to carry the religious programming of Pat Robertson's talk show, "The 700 Club," which airs in the mornings and after 11 p.m.

Before being named to head ABC Family, Shapiro was president of Buena Vista Productions, a Disney-owned TV production group, where she oversaw the development of the "Wayne Brady Show," the syndicated version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and was instrumental in the selection of Kelly Ripa as co-host for "Live with Regis and Kelly."

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