[em]Good Morning America[/em]‘s Sherwood Leaving ABC

Good Morning America executive producer Ben Sherwood has resigned from ABC, according to three network sources. Sherwood, who agreed to the terms of the resignation in a meeting Thursday with ABC News president David Westin, will leave the network October 1, the sources said.

Sherwood, a Harvard graduate, Rhodes scholar and the author of two novels with a third forthcoming, has run the second-place morning program for two years–the two most successful in the show’s history but still deflating ones, ratings-wise. During a period of high dawntime drama last May, the broadcast crept to within 40,000 viewers of NBC’s long-dominant Today show, but has since fallen into a protracted slump. Nielsen Media Research released its sweeps ratings data today, showing that Good Morning America ended May 800,000 viewers behind its rival Today.

Sherwood is leaving behind a seven-figure contract, network sources said. He will return to his hometown of Los Angeles, where his wife is the co-chairman of Imagine Films and where he has an ailing parent, said two people close to Sherwood.

The relationship between Sherwood and GMA anchor Diane Sawyer is rumored to have soured in recent months, as ratings continued to slip. Last week’s promotion of GMA anchor Charlie Gibson to the World News Tonight anchor chair put further strain on the ailing broadcast.

Still, a top ABC executive said the network will be sad to see Sherwood go and that he has “an open invitation to return to ABC News.” In the meantime, the executive said, Disney will endeavor to find a role for Sherwood within the company that he can fill in California.

“We would like nothing better than for Ben Sherwood to continue to be the executive producer of Good Morning America for a long time to come,” the executive said, “but that is not in the cards.”

–Rebecca Dana