As More Showrunners Speak Up Against Fox News, 20th TV Faces A Short-Term Problem, FBC – A Long-Term One

Steve Levitan Seth MacFarlane

It’s been an extraordinary confluence of events. Seth MacFarlane’s Saturday tweet slamming Fox News for their “fringe” appeals to viewers to not believe any other news organizations was quickly magnified by the conservative-leaning news channel’s coverage of the immigrant child separation crisis.

As Fox News hosts and talking heads continued to largely support the policy against growing public outrage over it, more and more current and former Fox showrunners started speaking up, especially after Fox News’ Laura Ingraham on Monday night called the children detention centers “summer camps” and Corey Lewandowski a day later seemingly mocked an immigrant child with Down Syndrome on the cable news channel.

Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan wrote that he was “disgusted” to work for Fox. He joined Family Guy creator MacFarlane, who had said he was “embarrassed” by Fox Broadcasting Co. and 20th Century Fox TV’s association with Fox News, which Sons Of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter called “manipulative propaganda, run by oligarchs, delivered by puppets, to control the fearful.” Judd Apatow urged Fox showrunners and talent to call out Fox News’s coverage of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy.

“I am horrified and disgusted and furious,” New Girl creator Liz Meriwether wrote on Twitter. Condemning Fox News for its “heartlessness” were Craig Thomas and Carter Bays, creators/showrunners of one of the top live-action comedies in 20th TV’s library, How I Met Your Mother. “I can’t imagine ever working for this corporation again in its current form,” wrote Thomas, who, as a father of a son with special needs, was upset by Lewandowski’s comment. Added Bays, “@FoxNews has damaged America. Shame on all of us.”

It’s been a very emotional few days for Fox creators and producers who have struggled with the conflict of having benefitted financially from a company that also owns a platform for expressing views contrary to theirs. Those are also views that are not shared by anyone running 20th TV, FBC or FX Networks, divisions that have been responsible for such left-leaning/progressive programs as Glee, Modern Family, Empire, Versace: American Crime Story and Homeland. 

Most showrunners who have spoken out against Fox News — and parent 21st Century Fox TV company — have been quick to separate the corporation from the Fox entertainment divisions and the executives in charge of them. Bays called his time at 20th TV “the happiest 12 years of my career.” Levitan stressed his wonderful experience working at 20th TV, which produces Modern Family, expressing “great respect and admiration for Dana Walden, Gary Newman and Peter Rice.”

It is these relationships, especially by Walden, who has fostered very close ties with talent over the years, that have kept top writer-producers on the 20th TV roster for decades.

So far no writer or director has opted to end their overall deal with the studio. And Levitan, who said that he would not be renewing his expiring overall pact with 20th TV, added that he “will take some time to see where (studio toppers) land” before making a decision about his future.

That is because 20th TV is in flux, with Disney and Comcast in a bidding war over a group of assets that the TV studio and FX Networks are part of. Regardless of the outcome, both divisions will have a new owner within 6-12 months, erasing any corporate association with Fox News and relieving any moral dilemma 20th TV and FX-based talent may be experiencing. And, if Disney is able to close a transaction, it is widely speculated that Rice and Walden would also go to Disney, extending their relationship with the creative talent at the two divisions.


While 20th TV and FX are about to break free from Fox News and the headache that comes with that association, FBC will remain tethered to the controversial news channel for the foreseeable future as part of New Fox. The broadcast network already raised some eyebrows with its upcoming revival of Last Man Standing, about a conservative, right-leaning centrist character played by Tim Allen, though the network still has shows like Empire, Family Guy and the upcoming comedy Rel starring Lil Rel on its roster to counter that.

Still, FBC, which got traction in the second part of last season with the new Ryan Murphy series 9-1-1, will likely face challenges stemming from its association with Fox News. Despite a largely liberal FBC leadership with strong Hollywood relationships, some creators may be hesitant about selling a show to the network amid ongoing calls for people with films and shows at Fox to distance themselves from the company that also owns Fox News.

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