Stern on rise at 20th TV

His expanded duties will include syndie arm

A management restructuring is in the works at Fox’s Twentieth Television.

Sources say Mitch Stern, presently prexy and chief operating officer of Fox Television Stations, will soon see his duties expanded to include oversight of Fox’s syndie production-distribution arm, Twentieth Television. Reps for Fox and Twentieth declined to comment on the shift, which could be announced as early as today.

Fox watchers were buzzing that the change at Twentieth could be a harbinger of still more exec changes to come within Fox TV, but insiders discounted the speculation.

The elevation of Stern puts a new layer of management between Rick Jacobson, Twentieth’s prez and chief operating officer, and Fox TV chairman and CEO Chase Carey. Jacobson had reported directly to Carey since he arrived at Twentieth in late 1995.

Fox insiders viewed the change as more of a coup for Stern, a 12-year Fox vet who is known to be held in high regard by News Corp. topper Rupert Murdoch, rather than a demerit for Jacobson. Sources said Stern’s employment contract was up, and that the additional responsibility for Twentieth was a key incentive in the contract renewal talks. Stern’s title was expected to be changed to chairman and chief executive officer of Fox Television Stations, with the Twentieth TV division put under the aegis of the station group.

Jacobson is well-liked on the lot and has good relations with Fox’s top brass, particularly Carey, sources close to the situation stressed. The insiders said another important catalyst for the shuffle at Twentieth is the pending departure of Greg Nathanson as Twentieth’s prexy of programming and production. Nathanson confirmed plans last month to leave the Fox fold to head the fast-growing TV station division of Emmis Broadcasting.

Nathanson’s position is not expected to be filled, which in effect solidifies Jacobson’s supervision of Twentieth’s development and production activities. Twentieth’s domain also covers a number of production units focused on nonfiction programming for cable, such as segs for A&E’s “Biography” showcase.

Jacobson and Stern already have worked closely together, as much of Twentieth’s syndie programming flows directly to the 22-station Fox O&O group. As a result, sources close to both execs predicted the new order would “pretty much be business as usual.”

Twentieth’s slate of firstrun fare includes two new strips set to bow Monday: the high-profile “Magic Hour” latenight talker with NBA great Earvin (Magic) Johnson, and the talk-reality half-hour “Forgive or Forget.”

Jacobson, in his tenure, has spear-headed successful sales campaigns for such Fox off-net fare as “The X-Files” and “King of the Hill.”

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