How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Media chief Sweeney is leaving Disney

March 11, 2014: 5:23 PM ET

The planned exit of Disney Media Networks boss Anne Sweeney is playing out like a TV show. Imagine the corporate potboiler she could create as a director of a dramatic series on her own ABC.

140205143610-mpw-global-anne-sweeny-620xbFORTUNE -- Anne Sweeney, Walt Disney's (DIS) veteran executive in charge of ABC and the co-chair of the media giant's vast cable-TV assets, is leaving.

Sweeney, who ranks No. 27 on Fortune's recently released Global Most Powerful Women list, broke the news of her planned exit through an interview with the Hollywood Reporter.

Only in Hollywood does a Fortune 500 boss in charge of businesses in 166 countries give up a high-profile gig to become a director of TV shows. That's what Sweeney intends to become, she says, after her Disney contract runs out at the end of this year.

Today's news of Sweeny's exit sent rumors swirling that she was eased out or that she's departing because she hoped to succeed CEO Bob Iger but is not in the running. The rumors are untrue, says a high-ranking source at Disney. When Sweeney's previous contract was several months away from expiring last year, according to Disney, Iger offered her three more years; she asked instead for a one-year extension.

And while the rumor goes around that another powerful woman, Facebook (FB) COO Sheryl Sandberg who is on the Disney board, may be a candidate to succeed Iger, that's highly unlikely. Iger's contract runs until 2016, and the two top candidates to take over from him are internal: Disney CFO Jay Rusulo and Parks and Resorts chairman Tom Staggs.

sweeneya-chris2As for Sweeney, she has been loyal since joining the company in 1996 as president of the Disney Channel, but she's never been solely focused on climbing the ladder. Sweeney, who is 56, began her career wanting to be an actress. In 2007, she started taking painting lessons and became an avid artist.

Today, Sweeney juggles her job as co-chairman of Disney Media Networks with caring for elderly parents, both retired teachers who live near her in Los Angeles, and an autistic son, Christopher. Sweeney and her husband have a grown daughter too. She talked about Christopher at length for the first time in this 2011 interview, part of a Yahoo (YHOO) series called Power Your Future. And yes, that's young Chris in Sweeney's painting above.

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