Fox’s Liguori drinks it in

Exec meeting with staffers, searching for FX successor

Incoming Fox Entertainment prexy Peter Liguori has already dived in, meeting with network staffers Thursday and sending them an email over the weekend offering up kudos for the launch of laffer “Life on a Stick.”

As Liguori begins to familiarize himself with the net’s program development, he’ll work closely with current entertainment topper Gail Berman, who’s expected to stick around Fox until mid-May — long enough to see the net’s pilots through the development cycle.

At the same time, Liguori will keep a foot in the door and assist in finding his replacement at FX Networks, where he’s served as president and CEO since 1998.

News Corp. brass were mum over Liguori’s potential replacement, although current FX Entertainment prexy John Landgraf is a top contender for the gig along with Fox TV Studios topper Angela Shapiro-Mathes.

News Corp. prexy-chief operating officer Peter Chernin acted fast in naming Liguori to the top Fox Entertainment post. Berman informed Chernin just last Monday that she’d be ankling the net to take a top creative job at Paramount.

News of her departure leaked the next morning; Chernin then approached Liguori about taking the job.

“One of the things you regularly think about is succession planning,” Chernin said. “There are enough smart and talented people in the company that we’ve been able to absorb significant change seamlessly.”

Goodbye to troops

Liguori spent much of Wednesday afternoon breaking the news to his FX staff, some of whom even teared up at word of his departure. Fox finally made it official Thursday.

Liguori has been a star inside News Corp. ever since he turned FX, once a moribund, repeat-heavy cable network, into one of the industry’s top original programming outlets.

“If you look at what Peter’s achieved over the past several years, it speaks a lot to what we’d like to continue to do at the network,” Chernin said. “He has created a tremendously focused brand and done a great job of marketing that brand to the public. He’s also created a real culture of leader- ship.”As for Liguori’s move, “I’m a big advocate of, when you’re through with change, you’re done for,” Liguori said. “I have great love and respect for the people at FX (but) I was excited by the challenge at Fox.

“Clearly my No. 1 goal is maintaining the momentum the team at Fox has created.”

Steven Bochco, who’s exec producing the upcoming Iraq-themed drama “Over There” at the cabler, said Liguori would bring “enormous energy and creativity” to Fox.

Bochco thumbs up

“I’ve never felt as much genuine support both creatively and supportively as I have from (Liguori and FX entertainment topper John Landgraf)… My suggestion is that he take the FX philosophy to a broadcast network and develop fewer things with more passion.”

Liguori joins Fox less than two months before the New York upfronts, where he’ll lead the net’s presentation to advertisers. Still, he sees his arrival as potentially benefiting the pilot picking process.

“With the pilots coming in, I’ll be able to look at it with unprejudiced eyes,” he said. “I’m not invested in any of these shows.”

Chernin also dismisses concerns over the timing of Liguori’s arrival.

“It’s incredibly naive,” Chernin said of the scuttlebutt. “It’s actually the perfect time for something like this. You want to make these kind of changes in between development cycles.”

Beyond setting next season’s schedule, Liguori also must address the same problems in the fall months that Berman faced: launching new programs, and keeping the momentum of returning shows alive, when baseball playoffs and the World Series preempt much of October.

“If we could have a decent fall, we’d be a dominant No. 1,” Chernin said. “We have to do a better job of executing around (baseball).”

The Fox Entertainment president must also find new ways to bring audiences to critical darlings like “Arrested Development,” while keeping an eye toward replenishing the net’s series bench as several staples (“King of the Hill,” “Malcolm in the Middle”) head toward the finish line.

As for FX, Chernin said he’d begin looking to identify Liguori’s replacement this week.

Candidates strong

The likely candidates to replace Liguori have strong track records.

Shapiro-Mathes followed a similar trajectory as Liguori, beginning her rise through the Disney/ABC ranks in marketing. She joined ABC as a senior VP of marketing and promotion in 1995, later assuming top posts at ABC daytime, Buena Vista Prods. and ABC Family.

Since joining FX a year ago, Landgraf has produced hit drama “Rescue Me,” landed Glenn Close as a fourth-season addition to “The Shield” and locked series projects from Bochco, Morgan Spurlock and Section 8. His resume includes stints as a current series exec at NBC and head of production company Jersey TV.

Loss of Liguori won’t pose immediate problems. Key senior execs like Landgraf, Nick Grad, Matt Cherniss and Gerard Bocaccio are locked in for the next couple of years.

After Liguori helped launch Fox Sports Net and later ran marketing for all of Fox’s cable nets, News Corp. TV chief Peter Chernin hired him to run fledgling cabler FX in 1998.

Early on, Liguori sold him on transforming FX from purveyor of cheapie live shows into a premier destination for unfiltered creativity. Series such as “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck” turned into pop culture sensations under his watch, and Liguori displayed impeccable taste in picking executive talent like Landgraf and former FX entertainment topper Kevin Reilly.

Chernin has one goal in mind for Liguori as he takes over at Fox Entertainment just as the net is about to pull off its first-ever season win in adults 18-49: “Don’t screw it up.”

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