Fox Bosses Lay Out “New Fox” Plans To Court Independent Studios, Take Program Ownership – TCA

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Fox TV Group chairmen and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman today outlined more of the vision for “New Fox”, the Fox Broadcast Company after its sister studio 20th Century Fox TV, along with other key 21st Century Fox assets, move to Disney in the pending acquisition.

It was fitting that the two, who had been alternating at TCA over the last year or so, were both on stage in their last press tour as a team after 25 years at Fox, first at 20th Century TV and subsequently adding network duties.

In her opening remarks, Walden made light of the persistent rumors that she, along with Fox Networks Group CEO Peter Rice,  would be getting a job at Disney after the merger. “Not since my kids were little have I been asked so often about going to Disney,” she quipped. Stressing that she and Newman “are limited to what we can say” about the pending Disney-deal and their own future (There has been chatter than Newman may stay at the network a little longer), Walden laid out some of the plans for the soon-to-be independent network.

Fox will be significantly reducing its dependence on 20th Century Fox TV this coming development season. Last year, the network’s sister studio was responsible for 90% of its scripted development. The number will go to 50% during this coming “transitional year”, with the eventual goal for “New Fox” to have a “well-rounded schedule with hits from everywhere,” Walden said.

The emphasis will be on independent studios like Warner Bros. TV, Sony TV Lionsgate TV and MGM, which Walden said had “gotten squeezed” in the current era of vertical integration. She noted that there were 16 new series from outside studios launching on the broadcast networks five years ago. That number went down to 6 this coming season.

“We want to be their first choice among the four networks,” Walden said. “We will be the only network to be operating completely independently. It will have the ability to pick up the best shows without any studio agenda.”

She noted that the highest rated scripted series on three networks last season, CBS/WBTV’ The Big Bang Theory, ABC/Carsey-Werner’s Roseanne, and NBC/20th TV’s This Is Us, all came from independent/unaffiliated to the network studios

Walden confirmed Deadline’s report from last week that FBC will be going for partial ownership in the series it buys from or lays off at outside studios.

“Fox will have co-ownership stake in the shows we order,” Walden said. “Space on the network schedule is incredibly valuable. That is the condition pretty much across the board.”

She noted like “older juggernauts” like The Simpsons, which soon will be coming from an outside studio when 20th TV moves to Disney, and The Big Bang Theory, are “keeping circulation on the network” and bring quality to it, so their value goes well beyond ratings. That said, “for new shows on Fox, the network will not produce them but will have a co-ownership stake,” Walden said.

There had been great uncertainty in the marketplace what FBC will look like after its sister studio goes to Disney. Since the Disney-Fox acquisition was originally announced late last year, FBC has struck two big programming deals, both in the sports/live programming arena — for Thursday Night Football and WWE SmackDown, further fueling speculation that “New Fox” may be relying less on scripted programming and more on sports, reality and live entertainment.

At TCA today, Fox announced three new reality series, Spin the Wheel, The Masked Singer and Mental Samurai. 

Walden admitted that there had been some confusion immediately after the Disney-Fox deal was first announced last fall but stressed, “we are definitely in the development business, and the mix of programming will remain as it was the past decade. We are launching shows all season long; I don’t anticipate that to change.”

As we reported last week, in a series of meetings with talent agencies earlier this summer Fox Entertainment president Michael Thorn and his team had stressed that FBC is still very much in the scripted business and plans to order a similar number of pilots to last season though the volume of its script buys will likely be lower as the network plans more targeted development. And with no sister studio in the foreseeable future, I hear Fox plans to take control over developing shows.

The network is looking to buy pitches directly from creators and producers with no studio attached and to develop them internally before partnering up with an outside studio, likely one of the independents, to produce them. Acting somewhat like a studio, the network even plans to make talent deals directly with writers and actors.

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