Salhany, Grushow talk up Fox

New Fox Broadcasting Co. chairman Lucie Salhany and entertainment prez Sandy Grushow played “meet the press” at the TV critics tour Friday while sounding a “stay the course” message.

The most pointed questioning centered on events surrounding exec producer-creator Keenen Ivory Wayans’ exit from “In Living Color,” with Grushow calling the show a “franchise” that, like “Saturday Night Live,” will survive despite cast and behind-the-scenes defections (see related story).

Grushow and Salhany also sought to downplay reports that Wayans left on bad terms, allegedly miffed at Fox’s decision to air repeat episodes on Thursdays without notifying him (Daily Variety, Dec. 10). They acknowledged that Wayans was “concerned” about the scheduling move hurting the show’s syndication value but said he’d been consulted in advance and left because he wanted to pursue a feature film career.

Though Wayans has severed an exclusive overall TV and feature deal with Fox, Salhany said he’s developing another comedy series, called “Phi Slamma Jamma,” for the weblet. However, Wayans’ manager, Eric Gold, said the actor-producer was no longer involved in that project–still in the works at Fox under current “Color” co-exec producer Les Firestein–and hadn’t ruled out involvement in other TV fare elsewhere.

On other matters, Grushow announced two new programs: a variety series featuring Robert Townsend, the actor-writer-director behind the movies “Hollywood Shuffle” and “The Five Heartbeats”; and a February special/series pilot featuring Dame Edna, the self-obsessed drag queen/interviewer introduced to U.S. audiences by NBC.

Dame Edna’s most recent NBC special drew a rather tame 8.5 rating, 15 share in Nielsen Jan. 2, and she also hosted “The Tonight Show’s” New Year’s Eve coverage from Times Square for the web. Fox said its spec will air during the February sweeps and quipped that NBC, preoccupied with its late night doings, let Dame Edna slip away.

“The Robert Townsend Variety Show” will go into production in the spring. Townsend will host the show, formatted much like “In Living Color,” and appear along with an ensemble of young comics. (Townsend and Wayans co-wrote “Hollywood Shuffle.”)

Grushow gave a vote of confidence to the low-rated comedies “Flying Blind” and “The Ben Stiller Show,” while saying the future of the half-hour mystery series “Likely Suspects” was undecided.

As for Fox’s commitment to its renegade roots, Grushow cited research showing that Fox was identified in a recent study as being “different” by 52% of those responding, compared to no more than 12% for any of the networks.

Grushow added that the Big Three had apologized for excluding Fox from a policy statement on curbing TV violence and Fox intended to adhere to those standards.

Salhany, named to her new position only last week, said it’s “ironic” that she’s working at Fox since she wanted to launch a fourth and then fifth network while at Par and “part of me really wanted Fox to fail.”

Salhany was asked numerous questions about her status as the highest-ranking female executive in television. Asked about the so-called “boys club” in executive suites, she said, “Over 25 years, I’ve always felt a part of the system. … I think it’s just a club, and I’m in it.”

She also said that Fox’s planned late night strip “The Chevy Chase Show” would “absolutely” go on in September and stressed that no Fox affiliate would preempt its prime time fare in favor of syndicated hours distributed by Paramount and Warner Bros.

In other announcements, recently renamed movie arm Fox West Pictures has set two additional “Fox Night at the Movies” projects, both in association with Silver Lion Films: “Honor Bound,” a police drama starring Dylan McDermott, and “Born to Run,” a racing drama with Richard Grieco, who starred in the former Fox series “Booker.”

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