A month and a half after they started their new jobs as chairmen and CEOs of Fox Television Group, overseeing both Fox and 20th Century Fox TV, Dana Walden and Gary Newman on Monday hosted their first network-only event, Fox’s annual fall launch party. It served as the duo’s coming-out party as they mingled with the producers and stars of Fox series, from 20th TV as well as other studios. Walden and Newman spent their first few weeks realigning the two companies’ top executive structure, bringing Fox TV Studios President David Madden to Fox as President of Entertainment and making Fox COO Joe Earley COO of the entire Fox TV Group. Madden’s departure from the cable-focused Fox TV Studios raises questions whether it would be kept as a stand-alone entity with a new leader or merged with 20th TV’s cable division Fox 21. Meanwhile, a lot of Walden and Newman’s attention is focused on Fox, which is in a rebuilding mode after a major ratings slump. In an interview with Deadline, Walden and Newman discuss how they are keeping the network and the studio at arm’s length during selling season, whether there are more executive changes on the horizon, what the latest is on the future of FtvS, what kinds of reality series they want to do, whether straight-to-series, event and mini- series will be part of Fox’s portfolio and whether Jack Bauer will return for another 24 installment.
Dana Walden & Gary Newman On Potential Fox Executive Changes And Keeping Fox & 20th TV Independent
DEADLINE: A month into the job, what has been harder — buying or selling?
DANA WALDEN: I think it has been an interesting season so far. There are so many shows in production; I think our head of research said there are 400 shows in production right now. So a lot of writers are working, and it’s been a bit of a slow development season. But I have to say our newly aligned company is operating in a pretty efficient and fantastic way in terms of development, and we’ve also been hearing great pitches from outside studios. So I would say so far so good.
DEADLINE: Can you give examples of how the network and the studio are working better together under the new structure?
GARY NEWMAN: I think you see it both in development and in our current programming. On a couple of our returning shows — New Girl, Sleepy Hollow in particular — we’re speaking with a more unified voice to our producers, and I think the results are clearer messages. I think if you were to talk to the producers of those shows, they’re seeing better guidance coming from the executives who are spending more time together, sharing points of view to try to get on the same page before delivering messages to the producers, and I do think both of those shows, early in the season, are in great shape. On the development front, sort of similarly, what we try to do is we’ve gotten the groups together, the network and studio creative executives, and tried to engage in conversation about what we think we’re looking for at the network. It’s just led to a far more decisive and streamlined situation in development. I think the network is buying what they want and need from the studio, and the studio is taking out some very good projects to outside networks. So I feel like it’s everything, at least early on, that we hoped it could be.
DEADLINE: We’re still in the midst of it, but what do you consider the biggest coups for the studio and the network so far this pitch season?
WALDEN: Well, you hate picking a couple, and right now, the pitches have been great, and we’ve been pretty vigorous about our process in terms of especially what the network buys from the studio. There’s a lot of transparency, there’s tremendous communication. You know when the network decides that it’s a project that they want, it is because there’s an extraordinary amount of passion, and so it’s hard to say one or another. We’re very excited about the comedy projects that the network is doing with Scott Silver and with Dana Klein, Minority Report on the drama side, that’s just mentioning a few. So far we’re very happy with the development.
DEADLINE: On both fronts?
WALDEN: Absolutely, the studio has put pilot commitments at each of the outside networks, and we have projects at FBC from Sony, Warner Bros Television, Universal TV, ABC Studios. Again, this is sort of what we had hoped for, which is to maintain and strengthen our relationships with our partners at third-party networks and studios, which I think we have done. We’ve demonstrated that we’re going to step up the projects at the network that come from outside studios, and we’ve also taken important and valuable pieces of development into the marketplace and set them up at outside networks. So that was our goal, and our idea for this company is that we’d be able to do both if the communication transparency and process was strong enough.
DEADLINE: In a competitive situation for a 20th TV show, in which Fox is a bidder, who makes the call which network gets the project?
NEWMAN: We really try to avoid those sorts of situations as much as we can. Development is either coming here first or there has been a decision made prior to the pitch that it probably isn’t a project for Fox. So for most of those shows that are set up outside, Fox either didn’t hear it or heard it in an abbreviated manner. There would, of course, be situations where, due to the specific circumstances, that’s not going to be the case and it’s going to be a situation where both Fox and outside networks are pitched something. And I think our process is going to remain what it always has been, which is, what is the best home for the particular show? There is no win, even in this new alignment, for the wrong show ending up on Fox.
WALDEN: What we’ve tried to be clear with on the network side is, the network executives, when a project comes from the studio, they need to declare their passion immediately. There has to be a quick process where they make a determination about whether they want the project badly enough, if they are willing to part with their development fund, if they are willing to step up for a project. If they are only willing to step up to a particular point, and the studio feels strongly that there would be a strong outside interest in the project, once the project leaves FBC, FBC is out of the bidding situation. We did that very specifically; we don’t want our partners at third-party networks to feel like we’d do what’s been done a little bit in the past, which is the passion of the network executives is determined a little bit by the excitement of the marketplace. That’s something we are trying to avoid. So what we are trying to do is force creative executives to go from their gut, to pick the projects they want and express sufficient passion to land them at FBC.
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DEADLINE: Have you decided what the future of Fox TV Studios will be?
WALDEN: We haven’t made any decisions yet. We’re very happy with the executives in place who worked for David.
DEADLINE: Any more executive changes at the network or studio coming?
WALDEN: We don’t plan any changes at either company right now. Can’t say ultimately what the future holds, but we don’t have any plans right now. The teams are actually settling in, and we are happy with the way Jonnie Davis and Howard Kurtzman have stepped up on the studio side, Bert Salke is running Fox 21 as he always has, David Madden has stepped up, and the teams underneath Madden are responding very favorably to the new leadership and direction of the company.
DEADLINE: The first new series of the fall season just premiered, Fox’s Utopia. What do you think of the launch and the show’s future?
WALDEN: We really like the show a lot. (Producer) Talpa and (Fox head of reality) Simon Andreae and his team have done really a fantastic job. Having not been exposed much to it before we got to the company we now have been immersed in the world of Utopia. It’s a fantastic idea to take the storytelling form in reality that is familiar and yet give it a very unique twist. The notion of creating Utopia, of creating a new society, populating a world of pioneers who all have different points of view in terms of politics, civil liberties, sexual identity, you name it. The conversation, the debate has been so interesting on the show.
It’s really hard to evaluate the performance (of Utopia) without looking at the three-day numbers because we are learning very quickly that that is the story, along with the seven-day and ultimately how all of this rolls up in 30 days. That’s the full story. Our viewers are watching our programming in a very different manner, and the metrics — as everyone very well knows — they haven’t really caught up to how viewers are consuming television right now. So Gary and I would call (the Sunday premiere) a solid start, and we are excited about the show.
DEADLINE: Any chance of keeping Utopia multiple times a week beyond the first few weeks?
NEWMAN: I think we are scheduled for six weeks of multiple episodes, and then we have other things planned for Friday night.
DEADLINE: What are your goals this season?
NEWMAN: We want to return Fox to being the network that’s known for taking the biggest, boldest creative swings with programming — want it to be a place, like the studio, where the best talent in the creative business wants to come and work because they get supported, their vision gets protected. I think if we do that, we are going to achieve what we need to achieve, which is one night by one night, one show by one show, finding those hits that change the momentum and the perception of the network. We’ve seen it over the years with other networks whose ratings had fallen off; it all starts typically with one hit show, and it begins to change the way consumers view that network — it becomes a promotional platform and a calling card that creates excitement both out there in the public and within the creative community. We are going to be very patient here, the management is going to be very patient, and we are going to be looking to find that first great program that starts moving the network in the direction we are looking to move.
DEADLINE: What types of series are you looking to add?
WALDEN: We are looking for hit shows. I don’t think there is any genre of storytelling that, if done right, couldn’t be done successfully at FBC. We’re trying to have a bit of a balanced portfolio of development so that, to a certain extent, we are covering our bases, but there is no formula here. We can set in stone genres we are not looking for, and a pitch will come through the door with a great idea in that genre, and we will buy it. I think being rigid and having rigid rules about the creative process is a little bit of the beginning of the end.
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DEADLINE: Will you be buying more or less than last year?
NEWMAN: I think the (development) budget is comparable. Honestly we are not looking backwards at all; we don’t know what they bought last year, and it is not going to have an impact on what we are going to buy this year. We have a budget, and I anticipate that it would be sufficient. We know our management supports the idea that we need to be aggressive if we are going to succeed finding great programming. If you have a great creative vision, this company is not afraid to pony up, spend what’s necessary to make it happen.
DEADLINE: What is your take on straight-to-series pickups, event and mini-series?
WALDEN: Like the idea of event series, don’t want to spend a lot of time developing what you call limited series. We are going to use miniseries opportunistically to platform other shows on our schedule and to the extent that it feels like 24 last season, bringing that show back felt like an event. Those are the type of opportunities that we are looking for in that genre of programming. I think that both Gary and I both believe that straight-to-series is not a one-size-fits-all business. We liked what the network was trying to achieve last year in terms of having more information about a series, trying to get creators do what they do more regularly in cable — write backup scripts, create a bible, focus on characters, give them greater specificity because you know more about the direction they are moving in in future scripts. If the right idea with the right creator came along, we would go straight to series. We are doing that right now on Last Man On Earth. We are going to take a period of time to look at the pilot, and (executive producers) Phil (Lord), Chris (Miller) and Will (Forte) will make some adjustments based on what they see.
DEADLINE: Any update on doing a second 24 installment?
WALDEN: We are talking about it, thinking about when would be the best opportunity for it. We are checking with our creative partners how much enthusiasm they have for doing another installment. We were really pleased with this past season, just thought creatively it was top-notch. That was a great reward to the fans of the show who were ready to see more episodes of Jack Bauer, and it was a great financial endeavor for all of us — especially when you look at our businesses holistically, where it gave FBC a real shot in the arm in terms of ratings and viewers who were circulating on our network well into summer, and the studio, which made a lucrative SVOD deal around the event of bringing the show back.
DEADLINE: What is your strategy in the unscripted arena?
NEWMAN: It’s not really very different than the scripted side; we are going to have a diversified slate of development, try to have all types of shows represented. Personally, we are attracted to shows that are a little bit less cynical than some of the shows that have aired across the networks. We like shows that feel a little bit more aspirational.
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DEADLINE: You didn’t make any scheduling changes for the fall. Why is that?
WALDEN: We didn’t make any moves because we had been here a little bit over a month. There was strong rationale for the decision that had been made prior to us getting here, and it seems like doing anything as late as we got here would be more disruptive than it would be productive. Frankly, I think a lot of the choices they made are pretty good.
DEADLINE: After a long and successful run on the studio side, you added running a network, known as the best worst job in Hollywood. A month in, what has been the best and the worst part about it?
WALDEN: I would say, the best has been getting to know and working with the executives at the network, who are strong and experienced, and it’s been really a pleasure spending time with them, drilling into their individual businesses. That for me has been the best, along with being able to bring David Madden over and empower Joe Earley to work on both sides of the company. I would say the worst is having two full-time jobs. It is a little bit punishing in terms of the hours and trying to find time to have some big-picture thoughts. It’s a grinding schedule that, if you are not vigilant about it, you could easily just become reactive based on the pace. Gary and I are committed to not let that happen.
NEWMAN: As is usually the case, Dana and I are in wild agreement. By far the best part of this has been getting to work with the great group of executives over here in a different way. Being aligned with them, sharing burdens with them, sharing excitement with them has been fantastic, there is remarkable enthusiasm here for the job at hand. And I again totally agree with Dana that the part I think is the worst and for me a little bit unexpected is the volume between the two places. It’s really been overwhelming. I think a big challenge for us is going to be to tame that, and I think we made the right moves in bringing David Madden over and expanding Joe’s duties because already, just in the last week or so, I’ve felt a slight lesser volume, lesser urgency as these incredibly capable execs are taking on responsibilities.
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