EXCLUSIVE: Veteran TV producer Bert Salke has been tapped as president of Fox21, the cable/unscripted production arm of 20th Century Fox TV. He replaces Chris Carlisle who is exiting after a year-and-a-half stint. Salke, who is expected to start in mid-August, will report to 20th TV chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman.
For the past 13 years, Salke had been partnered with producer Chris Brancato in Brancato/Salke. The company was based at 20th TV from 2003-2005 before moving to ABC Studios (then Touchstone TV) where the two had been based until their most recent deal expired in mid-June. But Salke started off as an executive before segueing to producing, holding gigs at Twentieth Century Fox under Scott Rudin and at Lorimar and FBC under Peter Chernin. Because of that background, Salke had been approached for executive jobs before but said “the right one never came along” until he was asked to run Fox21.
Newman and Walden launched Fox21 in 2004 as a division for alternative and lower-cost scripted series. “I think it’s a different world today than when it was created,” Salke said. “They are now a prime supplier of prime cable programming but I think the company has not reached its potential, and there are branding questions. We’re going to aim high for event-type attention-grabbing programming.” The model would be parent studio 20th TV, which has shows like Glee and Modern Family, he said. Salke said happy with the 3 series on Fox21’s current slate, Sons of Anarchy, his favorite series on TV, and the upcoming Shawn Ryan/Ted Griffin FX drama Terriers and Breakout Kings, which was developed by 20th TV but laid off at Fox21 when it moved from Fox to A&E.
When their pact at ABC Studios was coming up last month, Brancato and Salke were approached with overall deal offers, including one by ABC Studios but, looking at the direction the TV business was going in the era of vertical integration, they felt it was time to try something new. In the past 5 years, they sold 36-37 drama scripts through their ABC Studios deal, all to ABC. They were prolific pilot makers (this past development season alone, they executive produced two cop drama pilots, Boston’s Finest and True Blue) but had no shows on the air, and Brancato had been hankering to return to showrunning. He went on to join the midseason Fox/20th TV drama Terra Nova. Meanwhile, Salke said he loved running a company (their pod was one of the bigger ones in TV production) but was looking to “broaden my horizons: I’m interested in comedy and super interested in reality.” Salke continues to be very close with Brancato and plans to work with him very soon, a real possibility now that Brancato works for a 20th TV-produced series and is also expected develop for the studio. Also working for 20th TV is Salke’s wife, the studio’s EVP Jennifer Nicholson Salke, but Salke said he made sure beforehand there would be no overlap between their duties. “It was made clear to me that there is not much crossover if any,” he said. “If this was a job that entailed a lot of crossover, I wouldn’t have taken it. We want to keep things separate.”
For Carlisle, a former top marketing executive, the Fox21 job marked the first production executive position. He presvously served as president of domestic theatrical marketing for New Line and also headed marketing for Fox and FX. It is unclear what his immediate plans are. Before Carlisle joined Fox21 in 2008, the unit had been headed by Jane Francis, who stayed on as SVP of creative affairs under Carlisle and will also do so under Salke.