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ABC’s Anne Sweeney Flips the Script

Right after our cover story on Anne Sweeney, one of the most powerful TV executives in Hollywood, hit the newsstands last week, she suddenly announced that she would be leaving her high-level position with the $12 billion mouse-eared empire after this year to pursue a long-held dream of directing.

The decision took her colleagues and industry insiders by surprise.

It’s a bold move to step down as the co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney/ABC Television Group, which includes ABC, all of the Disney channels and ABC Family. At 56, Sweeney is making the choice to leave a position of power for a role much further down the food chain. An executive fond of telling those who work with her to “Do the things that scare you the most,” she apparently has decided to take her own advice as she steps off the corporate ladder.

In a follow-up interview with SUCCESS this week, Sweeney explained that she has always been interested in the creative process and came to a point in her life when she felt it was time to pursue that passion.  

Q: What factors went into the making your decision?

A: After [Disney chairman and CEO] Bob [Iger] came to me and offered me another long-term contract, I really had to think long and hard about what I wanted for my next chapter. At that point, I decided that what would be best for me would be to give the company another year to help with the transition, and then to go off and start a new adventure that was more fully immersed in the creative process. It really was all about the question, “If not now, when?” I decided it should be now. 

Q: Do you have some directorial opportunities locked up?

A: I don’t have any directorial opportunities locked up, because I’m working at Disney through January 2015. But I have had a lot of directors contact me and offer me the opportunity to shadow them when I’m free, which I will absolutely be doing. I know I have a lot to learn, and I’m excited by this new creative challenge.

Q: Where did you get the passion for directing?

A: My passion for directing really started in my days in theater, a really long time ago before anyone knew who I was. This introduced me to the creative process, which is what ultimately led me to television. I’ve always been fascinated in how stories are constructed… what goes into a great narrative from every aspect. 

Q: And are you looking to direct episodic TV, made-for-TV films and miniseries? Or would you eventually like to go into feature films?

A: It’s far too early to predict where my new passion will lead me, but I do know that, for now, I’m going to focus on television, and I’m excited to one day be part of the process that makes this incredible storytelling come to life.


Anne Sweeney has made smart moves to keep Disney and ABC ahead of the curve in the television world. Find out how she's changed the way we watch TV.

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