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Shapiro's Future Unclear at ABC Family

The future of ABC Family president Angela Shapiro is unclear after the network was moved under ABC Cable Networks Group and the watchful eye of group president Anne Sweeney.

Industry sources said Shapiro, who had been reporting to The Walt Disney Co. president Robert Iger, is weighing her options after overseeing the beleaguered ABC Family Channel for nearly 16 months. The network, though, said in a statement that Shapiro would continue as network president "with the complete support of the company."

"What is unclear at this point is whether she's going to stay," a Disney source said.

Moving ABC Family, which Disney purchased from News Corp for $5.2 billion in 2001, under ABC Cable's auspices was deemed "simply an internal organizational decision to integrate a single cable entity into a larger cable family."

But sources said a rift between Shapiro and Iger over the performance and direction of the network may have prompted the shift, although ABC Cable officials denied any bad blood between the two executives.

Shapiro initially reported to then ABC president Steve Bornstein, but when Bornstein resigned in April 2002, she began reporting directly to Iger.

What is clear is that ABC Family has struggled under Shapiro. ABC Family's household ratings were down 13% to a 0.7 during the third quarter of 2003, compared to the corresponding period in 2002, as the network continues to search for a breakthrough hit.

On that front, the network suffered a major blow this past August when it cancelled its highly anticipated reality show featuring Roseanne Barr after the comedian took ill during production.

A bright spot for ABC Family has been its afternoon block of tween-targeted programming, including the Oct. 6 premiere of the stripped reality series Knock First, which helped the network boost ratings during its 5:30 p.m. time slot by 233% (1.0 vs. 0.3).

And the network is expected to unveil more than 300 hours of programming over the next 12 months, including a series based on actress Rosanna Arquette.

But even Shapiro has admitted in the past that the network had not lived up to ratings expectations.

Sweeney's ABC Cable Networks Group has been responsible for the channel's affiliate sales and marketing, as well as for ABC Family's daily kids block. Sweeney also oversees SoapNet and the resurgent Disney Channel.

Industry sources said, though, that turning around ABC Family may prove to be a daunting task.

"They still need to find an identity and a strong breakout show to lift it out of the malaise that currently surrounds it," a media-buying executive said.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.