One aspect of Fox’s executive restructuring that saw 20th Century Fox TV chairmen and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman add oversight of the broadcast network has been largely overlooked – the move also means a promotion for Fox Networks Group chairman and CEO Peter Rice, whose star at 21st Century Fox has been rising. He had been overseeing Fox and the company’s cable networks, but 20th TV had been under the purview of 21st Century president and COO Chase Carey. With the two units coming together, reporting also is being streamlined, with Walden and Newman reporting to Rice, who will take oversight of 20th Century Fox TV for the first time. Rice has production experience on the film side as former head of Fox Searchlight but this is his first venture into TV producing.
Rice said he was “excited” about the new challenge but downplayed his bump. “It really is a promotion for Gary and Dana,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with them, they’re a fantastic executives who have run the studio for 15 years. I have lots to learn from them about the TV studio.” Rice did not have any notes on how the studio has been run and does not plan to make changes now that he is in charge. “I think the studio will operate very much in a business-as-usual manner, both selling to other networks and hopefully to Fox.”
Rice was quick to assure both independent studios like Warner Bros. TV and Sony TV and studios affiliated with other networks that the combined Fox-20th TV unit plans to continue to work with everyone, including the independents, because “they have a roster of talent we want” and the vertically integrated studios, because “we have a deep relationship on the studio side, and we sell to them.” As they say, it is a two-way street. But in the end, Rice reiterated something he’d said following the Fox executive session this morning, that “the perfect win for the company is a hit on our network that’s owned by the studio.”
To get to that hit, you’ve get to take more shots, something that 20th TV had struggled to do with Fox in the past couple of years as the relationship between the two companies had become strained. (Rice declined to comment whether he intervened in cases where 20th TV’s interests may have been impacted by network decisions) It is startling that today, there was not a single panel for a new 20th TV series because the network has none on the fall schedule. In contrast, the lineups of the other broadcast networks had been dominated by owned new shows. Fox’s new scripted series come from Warner Bros. TV (Gotham), ABC Studios (Red Band Society), Universal TV (Mulaney) and 21st Century Fox-owned Shine (limited series Gracepoint). It is safe to assume that things will change next summer in favor of more owned content. In fact, given the other major nets’ increased focus on owned fare, especially at CBS, which next season will not have a 20th TV-produced show on its air for the first time in decades, had been a major impetus for the Fox consolidation.
But the plan to combined the two did not precede Reilly’s departure. Walden and Newman reached out to Rice to discuss the company structure after Reilly stepped down. At the time, Rice was gearing up to find a replacement for Reilly though he’d deliberately opted not to make a move until Reilly announced his exit. “I wanted to respectfully allow him to make the decision that he made,” Rice said. “Traditionally, somebody steps down, and another person is announced immediately. That means that a lot of conversations have to happen while the incumbent is still doing their job. Kevin would’ve had to be putting together the schedule while I was talking to other people about who would run the entertainment network.”
While he was intrigued by Walden and Newman’s ideas, Rice also explored a simple replacement scenario, interviewing a number of candidates to succeed Reilly. He didn’t want to elaborate on names, noting that some were in other jobs when they were approached. (I had heard that Gail Burman may have been considered for the post, though the conversations evolved into a production deal with Fox Networks Group as the talks with Walden and Newman gained momentum.) After exploring both avenues for several weeks, Rice said he “felt positively about the conversations (with Walden and Newman) and felt that that was our first choice.”
Walden and Newman have their work cut out for them at Fox, which is coming off a dismal season, failing to post year-to-year demo gains even with the biggest boost possible, the Super Bowl. Most of its returning series took a big hit, leaving the network with very few reliable building blocks. There had been talk that, given the enormity of the task, the two may need an experienced development executive under them the way Bob Greenblatt brought in Walden and Newman’s No.2 at 20th TV, Jennifer Salke, as president of entertainment at NBC. On the day of the announcement, Walden and Newman said that there are no immediate plans to hire an entertainment president at Fox where the top executive under Reilly was COO Joe Earley, who added oversight of development earlier this year. “They have to immerse themselves, learn about the network and the people there. Joe Earley is a fantastic executive, and they had been looking forward to working with him and the other executives at Fox,” Rice said, prompting my followup question.
Deadline: What is the future of Joe Earley?
Rice: I think the future of Joe Earley is very bright. He is a really terrific executive.
Deadline: How is he doing on the creative side?
Rice: I think he is enjoying himself.