Can the career of the besieged president of entertainment for ABC be saved?

By Jessica Shaw
Updated May 09, 1997 at 04:00 AM EDT

FALLING EXEC: Jamie Tarses, besieged president of entertainment for ABC.

PINNACLE: Tarses, who built a reputation as a programming wunderkind at NBC (she’s credited with championing Friends), officially took over ABC’s reins one year ago. At 32, she became the third-youngest person — and the first woman — ever to head the entertainment division of a major network.

LATEST MISSTEP: Languishing in third place for most of the season, ABC desperately needed to get off to a strong start for May sweeps. But April 26’s U2: A Year in Pop, the centerpiece of the ”ABC Is Pop” marketing campaign, ranked an abysmal 100th for the week. That was followed by the heavily hyped miniseries Stephen King’s The Shining, which also disappointed: The first installment came in behind CBS’ Della Reese-Olympia Dukakis movie, A Match Made in Heaven.

PERCEIVED PROBLEM: Tarses hasn’t hit yet with the mid-season replacements she scheduled, including The Arsenio Hall Show and Gun, and though she inherited much of the sweeps programming (including U2 and The Shining) from predecessor Ted Harbert, it was her responsibility to sell the shows to viewers. ”Everyone feels bad for Jamie because it seems like she was set up to fail,” says one TV exec. ”Now that Harbert’s gone, it seems like she’s swimming without a life preserver.” Recently, industry insiders have speculated that TV veteran Geraldine Laybourne, president of Disney/ABC cable networks, would be brought in to supervise Tarses. ”Every day there’s a new rumor about a new person,” says an ABC spokesperson, ”but we haven’t heard anything internally.”

NEXT STEP: ABC could yet salvage the sweeps. And Tarses will get to show her full development acumen with her 1997-98 lineup.

ADVICE: ”It’s a cyclical business,” offers media analyst Steve Sternberg. ”You can’t say anything is hopeless yet. Next season, if [ratings numbers] decline sharply, then you can say Jamie had something to do with it.” Meantime, just blame those pesky radicals who dubbed April 24-30 National TV Turn-Off Week. Who knew they were all ABC fans?