Cronin set as CEO/prexy after messy MTV exit

After eight days of poring over contract legalities and sorting out issues stemming from Rich Cronin’s vituperative ouster last week from MTV Networks, Fox was finally able on Thursday to confirm its hiring of Cronin as prexy and CEO for both Fox Kids Network and the Family Channel.

Cronin, who will work out of Los Angeles, said Thursday from his Connecticut home that he hopes to begin the new job “within the next few weeks.” He takes over the Fox Kids post left vacant by Margaret Loesch’s vice chairmanship appointment at Fox Kids Worldwide in September. Cronin also inherits the Family Channel reins from Tim Robertson, who will be shifted into an advisory role.

Loesch, who has been negotiating a release from her vice chairman contract, will “not be involved in the day-to-day operations of Fox Kids U.S. or Family Channel U.S.,” Cronin said. “But I see Margaret as a terrific resource.”

In fact, however, there is speculation that Loesch could be ticketed for a top post at Warner Bros.’ Kids’ WB!, though it could not be confirmed on Thursday.

Tense times

The Cronin appointment caps what has proven a tense and uncomfortable week for the former Nick at Nite senior VP and G.M. and TV Land prexy, who was forced to wait out a bureaucratic nightmare after his abrupt termination by Nickelodeon — spurred by his inking with Fox/Family Channel while still under contract to Nick (Daily Variety, Oct. 23).

In an Oct. 22 press release announcing the new TV Land executive appointments to replace Cronin, MTV Networks exposed its anger by spelling out Cronin’s transgression in having pacted to leave the company before the expiration of his Nick at Nite/TV Land contract in July 1998.

A source close to the situation said last week that Cronin had presented his Fox Kids/Family Channel contract offer to his superiors at MTV Networks and was told, ” ‘This is a serious breach of your responsibilities. You can’t do this.’ And then he went and did it anyway. He knew it would be a big problem.”

Not true, Cronin insisted on Thursday.

“I was very open and honest with everyone from the day that I got the offer,” Cronin said. “Originally, they really wanted me to stay. And we had these discussions three weeks before I ever signed anything.”

Believing that “there was nothing in my employment agreement (with MTV Networks) that prevented me from signing with a future employer,” Cronin didn’t hide the fact that he had decided to sign the long-term contract with Fox Kids/Family Channel. And he was still hopeful of “a friendly transition” while serving out the remaining months of his Viacom contract.

“I’d thought that since I had been with the company for almost 14 years, we could have worked something out and parted amicably,” Cronin admitted. MTV Networks declined comment Thursday on the Cronin announcement. The company had reportedly committed to do everything in its power to prevent Cronin from starting in his new job before July 1.

Legal moves possible

It’s uncertain whether MTV Nets plans to litigate the Cronin matter, but one source familiar with the contract said, “I’d be surprised if Viacom doesn’t challenge this. If they don’t, it sets a bad precedent.”

Cronin said that he’s simply happy to have it all behind him. He hopes.

“I’m obviously disappointed with the way my last job ended, but MTV’s actions now make it possible for me to begin this job sooner,” Cronin said.

While Cronin has never actually worked in children’s TV production, he will now supervise the interests of a children’s broadcaster with a reach of 90 million as well as a general interest cable network that’s seen in some 70 million households. He is being entrusted with the day-to-day responsibility for both Fox Kids and Family Channel domestically, overseeing operations, programming, marketing, publicity, affiliate relations and advertising sales.

Cronin believes that Family Channel needs to be “more contemporary, more hip and have more of a sense of humor,” all three of which infused the irreverent Nick at Nite and TV Land during Cronin’s tenure. He also hinted Thursday at some staff overhaul.

“Once I’ve put together a team, I think we’ll dive in and do some research, talk to kids, talk to parents, try to focus the brand and create a real home base for kids and families,” Cronin said. “Once we get that basic philosophy and brand strategy down, we’ll have a better idea of the kind of programming changes we need to make.”

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