Already the home of one of the biggest suppliers of broadcast scripted series in 20th Century Fox TV, Fox Television Group now also has one of the largest cable series producing companies, the newly formed Fox 21 Television Studios, which will merge the operations of divisions Fox 21 and Fox TV Studios under president Bert Salke. A consolidation of the two companies seemed inevitable as they have continued to grow, with FtvS president David Madden’s recent move to Fox Broadcasting Co. as the catalyst for the decision to do it. The alternative — keeping the two companies separate and hiring in a new head of FtvS — was never seriously considered, according to Fox TV Group chairman Dana Walden.
“Right from the beginning, this seemed like the right decision,” she said about combining Fox 21 and FtvS. “We were not meaningfully out in the community looking for somebody to replace David.” Walden noted that while Fox 21 and FtvS had started from different places, they had both evolved to become large production units with the same primary focus — cable series.
“We had two competing companies within our own family,” she said. “There is a great upside in being able to unite the organizations — there are fantastic executives on each side — and being able to approach the creative community with a unified voice.”
The word merger has become synonymous with layoffs and cost-cutting. Will there be some of that involved in combining the operations of Fox 21 and FtvS? Walden was quick to stress that the decision to merge the units was a direct result from Madden’s departure. “It has nothing to do with reducing headcount,” she said. “Both units have been very successful, and they have been set up in a very different way.”
Launched as a division of 20th TV, Fox 21 has operated very closely with the big studio, utilizing 20th TV resources in a number of service areas. Meanwhile, FtvS was originally launched as an independent unit within News Corp. and had largely kept that status, relying on its own infrastructure. “There isn’t much duplication,” Walden said, adding that “definitely the goal is not to go in, lay off people and shrink (the operation). We want to grow and create bigger, more successful organization.”
The highest-level executive at FtvS is Madden’s No. 2, SVP Development Nancy Cotton. Restructuring always creates anxiety among executives, but Walden spoke highly of Cotton, who ran FtvS in the months since Madden’s departure. “She is really a highly regarded executive, we have a world of respect for her and view her as part of the senior management team (of the combined company).”
Salke and 20th TV EVP Brand Management and Digital Strategy Mark Pearson will spend the next 3-6 months studying the workings of both companies before developing a strategy for how they will be combined. Pearson’s role at Fox 21 TV Studios is only for the transition, providing support to Salke. “He is incredibly valuable for (20th TV),” Walden said.
Fox 21 TV Studios is merging companies with different identities — one that is deeply aligned with 20th TV and one semi-independent. Which direction will the combined company go? Walden said it would be “shortsighted” for the new entity not to take advantage of the resources of 20th TV and noted the close relationship she and fellow Fox TV Group chairman Gary Newman have with Salke. However, “this is independent company producing its own content, and the goal will be for the unit to move towards greater independence.” (In a sign of the new company’s direction towards more autonomy, it will be housed at FtvS’s offices on Santa Monica Blvd., not on the Fox lot where Fox 21 is based.)
While Fox 21 and FtvS have both been focused primarily on cable, there are no rules what areas the combined company should explore. Digital platforms are definitely a target. But “there is no box, we are not interested in putting limitations on the type of shows they produce,” Walden said. Even broadcast series, that are the bread and butter of 20th TV, are a possibility. “There is no real reason not to look at producing network shows on a reasonable scale,” she said.