In April 2004, ABC was wrapping its third consecutive season in last place among adults 18-49. Then-rising star Disney cable executive Anne Sweeney was brought in, greatly expanding her portfolio to include the struggling broadcast network and its sister studio along with her oversight of Disney’s cable properties. She’s had successes — most notably the gutsy 2010 move to install Ben Sherwood, then considered a polarizing figure, as head of ABC News, as he went on to revitalize Good Morning America and take the morning ratings lead away from incumbent Today. (Sherwood’s morning success has him already tipped for a Jeff Zucker-type career trajectory to a big network job at ABC.)
But there has been little change in primetime. There was an initial momentum brought in by three shows developed by the dismissed ABC executives when Sweeney and her lieutenant Steve McPherson stepped in – Lost, Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, which launched during the 2004-05 season, followed by Dancing With The Stars in June 2005. Since then, there has been a breakout success in Modern Family, several slow builders in hits Scandal, Shark Tank and Castle and a few other solid players. But in the end, Sweeney will leave ABC where she found it, wrapping its third consecutive season in last place among the broadcast networks.