21st Century Fox just announced a long-rumored restructuring, which will see 20th Century Fox TV chairmen and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman overseeing a new business unit within Fox Networks Group, Fox Television Group, which will combine Fox Broadcasting Co. and 20th TV. The two will assume their new expanded duties later this month, reporting to Peter Rice, Chairman of Fox Networks Group. The appointment fills a void at the top of the network left by the departure of chairman Kevin Reilly in May. (Walden and Newman had previously reported to Chase Carey, president and chief operating officer of 21st Century Fox, as 20th TV was not part of the Fox Networks Group, while Reilly had reported to Rice.) The move reverts to a structure from a decade ago when Fox and 20th TV too were part of the same unit, Fox Television Entertainment Group, run by Sandy Grushow.
In their new roles as chairmen and CEOs of Fox Television Group, Newman and Walden will be responsible for most facets of running Fox including programming, digital and marketing, with only ad sales and affiliate relations not under their purview. They also will continue oversight of 20th TV, which they have led for the past 15 years. “As we look to the future of the broadcast television business, it is clear that the best path forward is to operate our creative and broadcast divisions under the leadership of a single team, and that Gary and Dana are the perfect executives to take on this new role,” said Carey. “While TCFTV and FBC will each continue as an open supplier and an open network, respectively, the closer alignment of these two properties, coupled with a unified vision from Dana and Gary, gives us a clear advantage in creating even more hit content that will benefit both businesses.”
As news of Walden and Newman’s expanded responsibilities started to trickle down over the past few days, the reaction from industry types has been positive as many praised the duo’s work at 20th TV. Whether it has a good selling season or a not-so-good one, it is a very well-run studio, observers say. However, there was some trepidation among rival networks that they may no longer have access to 20th TV’s best projects, which could be steered to Fox, a network in dire need of a ratings turnaround. Walden and Newman moved in swiftly to assuage possible concerns with an internal memo this morning, in which they vowed no preferential treatment for 20th TV-produced shows at Fox and stressed that 20th TV will continue to sell to everyone. “The time is right to unite these divisions,” Walden and Newman said in the official 21st Century Fox announcement. “Television has never been more creatively vibrant and the business has never been more dynamic. Our goal is to make FBC the number one destination for creators with big visions and bold ideas, because our guiding principle has always been ‘talent first.’ “
There is some concern over how daunting the task is of taking over Fox, which has been in free-fall ratings-wise, in addition to running one of the biggest TV studios. “It’s a lot of work,” one insider noted. There is talk that the duo may need top lieutenants at both places to keep things running smoothly. Both the studio and the network recently elevated No. 2 executives – 20th TV’s head of comedy Jonathan Davis was given a large portfolio as President of Creative Affairs and the studio’s top business exec Howard Kurtzman was named President, Business Operation, while Fox COO Joe Earley’s responsibilities were expanded to development. Still, some suggest that more manpower may be needed to manage both operations.
The consolidation under Walden and Newman ends a period of discord between Fox and its sister studio, which continues to provide the network’s best performing scripted series: dramas Bones and Sleepy Hollow, live-action comedy New Girl and animated stalwarts Family Guy and The Simpsons. (20th TV’s portfolio under Walden and Newman also includes the Emmy-winning Modern Family and Homeland, along with other hits such as American Horror Story and Sons Of Anarchy.) There have been a number of instances in the past few years when Fox’s pickup choices hurt 20th TV’s bottom line, like the network’s decision not to order a second of the studio’s big-ticket dinosaur drama Terra Nova, which was a strong seller internationally, the 2011 last-minute pickup of Warner Bros TV’s Alcatraz over two high-profile 20th drama pilots, Exit Strategy starring Ethan Hawke and Locke & Key, both produced by Sleepy Hollow’s Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci. Last year, Fox ordered no new drama series from 20th TV, opting instead for WBTV’s The Following and Sony TV’s The Mob Doctor.
Fox’s current live-action comedy slate is dominated by series from NBC-affiliated Universal TV, including The Mindy Project, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the upcoming Mulaney. There are some jitters what Walden and Newman’s appointment would mean for Uni TV-produced Cabot College, whose fate was left in limbo for the new Fox leadership to weigh in after the network’s previous regime and the studio got close on a six-episode order. Comedy-wise, 20th TV has New Girl and two straight-to-series projects, Weird Loners and The Last Man On Earth.
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