Fox Television Group is creating a power cable series supplier by combining prolific units Fox 21 and Fox Television Studios into one entity named Fox 21 Television Studios that will have a portfolio of 20 cable series and pilots — 10 coming from each side. It will be headed by Fox 21 president Bert Salke who has been named president of the new division, tasked with developing and producing scripted and unscripted projects for all distribution platforms. The decision was made by Fox TV Group chairmen and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman to whom Salke will continue to report.
Fox 21 Television Studios will be headquartered in FtvS’ offices at 10351 Santa Monica Blvd, with the Fox 21 team, led by Salke, moving from their current digs on the Fox lot.
With Fox TV Studios and Fox 21’s business increasingly overlapping, the idea of merging the units had come up from time to time over the past few years. It moved to the forefront in August when Walden and Newman appointed Fox TV Studios president David Madden as president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Co. “The executive talent at Fox 21 and FTVS is extraordinary and we realized that with David Madden’s move to FBC, we had a fantastic opportunity to combine these two groups into a single, more powerful organization,” said Walden and Newman, who also oversee heavyweight broadcast comedy and drama studio 20th Century Fox Television.
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Originally, following Madden’s appointment at Fox, Walden and Newman were considering both a consolidation of Fox 21 and FtvS under Salke and finding a replacement for Madden at FtvS, eventually settling on the first scenario. “Bert Salke’s record speaks for itself,” Walden and Newman said. “He is an enormously talented executive who has built Fox 21 into an industry leader, infused with an intense, distinctive brand that is reflected in every project he develops. He is undeniably the best person to lead this new company.”
As for the name of the merged division — a combination of the names of the two units — “we chose the name Fox 21 Television Studios to honor the rich legacies of great content created by each unit, from Homeland, Sons Of Anarchy and Tyrant at Fox 21, to Burn Notice, The Americans and The Killing at FtvS,” Walden and Newman said. The logo of the new company is keeping the style of the Fox 21 moniker, while FtvS’ was a variation on the 20th TV logo.
As he spearheads the merging of the two companies, Salke will get help from a 20th Century Fox TV executive with a strong business background: EVP Brand Management and Digital Strategy Mark Pearson, who has been tapped to assist Salke in integrating the two teams and creative cultures and in developing a comprehensive business plan and strategy for the new division.
“Our task is to merge the two companies into a cohesive new entity that will maximize the best of what each individual studio offered before,” Salke said. “In the coming weeks, I look forward to getting to know my new colleagues and rolling up my sleeves, with Mark’s help, to devise the best structure and business plan — and to help make the new studio the ‘go-to’ supplier of the most undeniable programming possible.”
I hear is the goal is to keep most key executives of both companies in place. It is unclear whether that would include Madden’s No.2 at FtvS, SVP Programming Nancy Cotton, who had been running the division since Madden’s departure and was said to be eying the top FtvS post.
Both Fox TV Studios and Fox21 have evolved from the way they were set up at the start. FtvS was the first of the two to launch in 1997 with David Grant at the helm. A brainchild of Grant and then-News Corp president Peter Chernin, it was originally designed to operate like a record company, with pods producing content. (Its mission statement read “an incubator for independent and entrepreneurial production companies.”) Those pods included FtvS’ first wholly owned subsidiary, the Greenblatt-Janollari Studio, which delivered sitcom The Hughleys; Regency TV, a co-venture with New Regency originally run by Gail Berman, which generated Malcolm In the Middle and The Bernie Mac Show; and FtvS Prods, led by Lisa Berger, that produced original programming for co-owned Fox cable channels, including Son Of The Beach at FX.
FtvS was conceived as an alternative to the traditional development track — it didn’t do anything that established sibling 20th TV did, including overall deals. That gradually changed. First, the pod model started to fade, with FtvS becoming an umbrella company comprised of five divisions: alternative, which produced The Girls Next Door franchise and the Spike Feresten and Wanda Sykes late-night shows for Fox; scripted, which produced FX’s game-changing drama The Shield as well as a slew of TV movies and miniseries; international; Fox World; and Regency TV. Eventually, all but the main FtvS scripted operation went away. After a detour pursuing direct-to-series broadcast series done as international co-productions, FtvS hit its stride with USA breakout hit Burn Notice and it has been a steady expansion since then under Madden.
Fox 21 was launched by Walden and Newman in 2004 as a unit of 20th TV run by Jane Leisner that was designed to rethink the economics of making shows and assigned with making shows that are distinctive and daring while being cost-efficient as a way of controlling escalating TV production costs. Like with FtvS, Fox 21 had a couple of hits early on, including reality series Beauty And The Geek and drama Sons Of Anarchy, but found a new gear when Salke was put in charge, spearheading such shows as Emmy-winning Homeland.
Salke and Madden took the reins of Fox 21 and FtvS, respectively, in the same year, 2010. As part of the rapid expansion under the two executives, the sister companies started to overlap in their reach and compete against each other (both FtvS and Fox 21 have produced series for FX, USA Network and TNT, for instance) as they developed similar identity — producers of distinct cable series with a solid roster of talent, many under overall deals. (There is also a third cable supplier in the Fox family, FX Prods., which is focused on its networks.) At that time, FtvS and Fox 21 already were under the same roof — both reporting to Walden and Newman following the departure of Chernin, who used to oversee FtvS — raising the possibility of consolidation. With both businesses in great shape under Salke and Madden, such a scenario was not actively pursued until Madden’s departure for Fox.
Fox 21 TV Studios has a number of high-profile upcoming projects, including from Fox 21 Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s series American Crime Story at FX, a spinoff from hit American Horror Story; and Kurt Sutter’s new FX pilot The Bastard Executioner. FtvS projects include series Damien, an Omen sequel, on Lifetime; Denis Leary’s Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll on USA; and the Billy Crystal-Josh Gad starrer The Comedians on FX. (See the new unit’s full list of projects in production below.)
Before joining the studio, Salke was partnered with writer-producer Chris Brancato in Brancato/Salke, a company based at 20th TV before moving to ABC Studios (then Touchstone TV).
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