While most industry types were surprised by yesterday’s announcement of Ben Sherwood as ABC News president, Jonathan Wald was not among them.
“Benjie is both an insider and outsider there, and that’s what ABC was looking for,” says Wald, Sherwood’s boss at ‘NBC Nightly News’ in the late ‘90s. “He understands the culture, but he’s breathing fresh air, too.”
A stealth candidate, Sherwood’s name had not surfaced anywhere as a replacement for 13-year president David Westin, scheduled to step down at the end of this month.
On paper, it’s an unusual hire, to say the least. Sherwood, 46, a best-selling writer and digital media entrepreneur, has been out of TV news since 2006.
After two years as exec producer of ABC’s ‘Good Morning America,’ he returned to California in ’06 to resume his writing career. His 2009 book, ‘The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life,’ was a best-seller.
Ironically, he had left NBC earlier for the same reason. His 2004 novel, ‘The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud,’ became a best seller. The same year, he came back to ABC for a second stint. “I discovered that I could leave the news business, but the news business didn’t leave me,” he said in a 2004 interview.
“Charlie St. Cloud” was adapted to a feature film last summer. Sherwood’s 2000 book, “The Man Who Ate the 747,” is also being developed as a movie and Broadway musical.
“As evidenced by his peripatetic career, Benjie’s open for anything,” says Wald, now e.p. of CNN’s Piers Morgan show, to debut next month. “As another child of television, I see in him a short attention span. He masks it very well.”
Media consultant Victor Neufeld, a 25-year ABC News veteran, acknowledges he was taken aback, at first, when he learned of Sherwood’s appointment.