Staff Reporter

Reports of the demise of ABC network executive Jamie Tarses, like those about Mark Twain a century ago, were greatly exaggerated.

At least for now.

Tarses is still television’s top woman programmer, even though she was demoted to the No. 2 spot last year below Stu Bloomberg, the network’s chairman, and even though the network still lags behind NBC and CBS.

“It was a good study in survival,” Tarses said after addressing more than 200 TV critics at the recent bi-annual TV writers convention at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena. “It was a unique situation for me, and I got through it.”

Last summer and throughout much of early fall, the 33-year-old Tarses was the subject of endless rumors and gossip throughout the industry, much of it that she was on her way out.

Already a controversial figure, Tarses was the subject of a New York Times profile that characterized her as often petulant. She also did not return her phone calls, even to her boss, ABC Inc. President Robert Iger, the Times reported.

Soon after the article, Times columnist Maureen Dowd dismissed Tarses as being “in over her hair.”

Ultimately, Tarses kept her job, although she admits that she is still in the hot seat. How did she survive? She got busy.

“It was about putting your head down and focusing on the work,” she explained. “There is something really satisfying about accomplishing that.”

Moreover, Tarses said, she had the support of her bosses, principally Michael Eisner, chairman of Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC.

“Eisner and Disney understand the challenges that lie ahead for us and have demonstrated an incredible amount of support and patience,” she said. “They know what we need to do and why we need to do it.”

Tarses said she is “profoundly aware,” however, that if ABC is eclipsed by the hard-charging Fox network, she is vulnerable. “They are not going to sit back with their arms crossed,” she said.

Eisner doesn’t micro-manage ABC, she said (even though he was the ABC executive who helped revive the network in the 1970s).

“He has a huge corporation to run,” Tarses said. “He loves television. He’s not present very much, but he cares. He’s following things because he has an interest in them.”

On Sept. 24, Eisner told PBS talk show host Charlie Rose why he teamed Bloomberg with Tarses.

“We thought she wasn’t quite as experienced to be the head person in California, and we brought in someone who she knew very well,” Eisner said. “We think the team of Jamie Tarses and Stu Bloomberg will be very strong.”

Tarses agrees with the Disney chairman’s assessment.

“The truth is, (although) no one wants to believe it, it really is a team,” she said. “If you call one of us you are going to get the answer, and you will never get the answer without us having talked to the other about it. Ultimately it is a partnership.”

But the hastily arranged marriage was evident when the two met the critics and answered questions in a formal session.

“I have a feeling,” Bloomberg said, “that a lot of you out there, in July, were laying some heavy odds that there might be only one of us here at this press tour.”

Asked afterwards if she is sleeping better, smoking less and returning her phone calls, Tarses laughed. “I am returning my phone calls,” she said.

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