As Jamie Tarses exits the hot pot that is corporate ABC, the question remains: Are too many cooks spoiling the net?

By Joe Flint
Updated September 17, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

It’s a good thing Heather Locklear’s joining ABC’s Spin City. With entertainment president Jamie Tarses bailing after a three-year run, the network may finally have more dramatic high jinks on screen than off.

Tarses’ exit was no shocker. Her troubled tenure was so riddled with tales of backstabbing and mismanagement, she might as well have added ”embattled network exec” to her name. But July’s merger of Disney’s and ABC’s TV divisions — a cost-cutting and synergistic maneuver instigated by Disney chairman Michael Eisner — resulted in a camel-breaking straw. On Aug. 26, just over a month after former Disney TV chief Lloyd Braun became cochairman, along with Stu Bloomberg, of ABC’s entertainment division, Tarses resigned, apparently feeling that while Two Guys and a Girl is a fine name for a sitcom, it’s no way to run a network. Asked if she would do it all over again, Tarses says, ”If I knew there would be far more attention paid to the bulls— than the work, I don’t know.”

Though Tarses could never claim an excess of fans, many in the industry sympathize with her apparent misgivings over ABC’s multiplex approach to management. ”I couldn’t tell you who works for whom,” says one studio exec with several shows on the net.

Let’s see if we can help:

— There’s Bloomberg and Braun, who are responsible for producing and greenlighting the prime-time shows.

— They report to Pat Fili-Krushel, the New York-based network president who also heads daytime development.

— She in turn reports to ex- ESPN topper Steve Bornstein, recently named president of ABC Inc.

— And he’s the guy directly under ABC Group chairman Robert Iger, who is the last word — if you don’t count Eisner …

That amounts to five people overseeing a third-place network’s entertainment division, versus just two (former entertainment president Ted Harbert and Iger) when ABC was in first place in 1994. CBS, No. 1 in total viewers, has two (TV CEO Les Moonves and entertainment prez Nancy Tellem). NBC, No. 1 with 18- to 49-year-olds, has two (West Coast prez Scott Sassa and entertainment prez Garth Ancier). The WB, the fastest-growing net, has two (CEO Jamie Kellner and president Susanne Daniels). Maybe there’s a lesson in there somewhere?

Tarses’ departure does thin the ranks a bit, but it probably won’t solve ABC’s ratings woes this fall. Unlike Bloomberg and Tarses, both primarily creative types, Braun is a lawyer (who once counted Tarses as a client) with more of a head for business. At Disney, he reenergized the TV division, significantly increasing production for the first time in years. Perhaps he will prove the perfect complement to the more casual Bloomberg, a man whose stock is currently sky-high thanks to the phenomenal success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a show he pushed hard for. ”My guess,” says Braun, ”is the town’s still somewhat confused as to who’s doing what, but I think it will settle down quickly.”