The network has changed, but the title’s the same.
Less than two months after he was pushed out of NBC, Kevin Reilly is back in the entertainment president’s chair — but this time at Fox.
To make room for Reilly, current entertainment topper Peter Liguori has been bumped up to Fox Entertainment chairman; both moves were expected (Daily Variety, July 6). New arrangement will mimic the Liguori-Reilly one-two punch the duo offered at FX until Reilly left for NBC in 2003.
Also moving in the shuffle: longtime Fox exec VP Craig Erwich, who is ankling the net but could still wind up elsewhere in the Fox family.
For Liguori, who engineered the whole reorg, it’s an opportunity to move up and focus more on his strengths — managing the net’s big-picture programming, marketing and interactive initiatives — and leave the day-to-day development to Reilly, an exec lauded for his creative chops.
And for Reilly it’s a chance to go from worst to first — having been pushed out of the fourth-rated broadcast web only to land at the top-rated one.
“I feel like I’ve won the lotto somehow,” Reilly said.
Word of Reilly’s courtship at Fox first came last week in the midst of Independence Day — marking the second time this summer that Reilly dominated the TV gossip during what would have been a lazy holiday period. Reilly’s ouster at NBC, in which the Peacock installed Ben Silverman to serve as co-chairman with Marc Graboff, happened over Memorial Day weekend.
Liguori said he mulled bringing Reilly aboard soon after the Peacock let him go.
“I had a meeting with (Peter) Chernin and suggested that we figure out a way to bring Kevin back into the family again,” Liguori said. “Kevin and I talked about how we could reteam and work together. To give Kevin the veneer that he was still on vacation, we did it in shorts and flip-flops.”
News Corp. prexy-chief operating officer Chernin, who announced the shuffle Monday afternoon, quickly signed off on the arrangement.
“When Peter Liguori approached me with the idea of reteaming with Kevin Reilly, I thought it was a bold move to redefine the structure of the network behind a pair of dynamic executives who have a proven track record of advancing the medium,” Chernin said in a statement.
Under the new arrangement, Reilly will report to Liguori. The execs said they’ll also share greenlight power.
“The beauty of this is Peter and I are not trying this on for size,” Reilly said. “There’s no learning curve here.
“In a very small company, we spent a lot of time joined at the hip together,” he added. “There’s one voice, there’s nothing going to go on that neither of us haven’t endorsed or know about. We’ve gone 15 rounds on things; we’re not always in lockstep. But at the end of the day we work it out.
“It’s just as healthy of an environment or relationship as any I’ve ever experienced,” he said.
Reilly’s shift to Fox caps a whirlwind six weeks for the former Peacock exec. Less than two months ago, he stood in front of advertisers at NBC’s upfront presentation, proudly presenting a schedule he believed would help the net continue its climb out of the ratings basement. Having just inked a new long-term deal with the network, he had no reason to believe that he wouldn’t be at NBC to help launch those shows in the fall.
Now, Reilly finds himself at what had been his chief rival — where one of his main missions will be to ensure that none of the shows he helped develop for NBC gets a chance to succeed. Not only will he have to kill his own young, he’ll also find himself having to hype a new batch of Fox pilots that he had nothing to do with.
“I work for Fox now, and I look forward to giving NBC a hard time,” Reilly said.
With Reilly running his second network entertainment division in as many months, ABC’s Steve McPherson quipped that Reilly could be on a Fred Silverman track.
“I hear when they fire me, he’s going to come run this place,” McPherson said. On a more serious note, exec said Reilly repped “a great get for Fox” and that he was happy for his friend.
Reilly, who said he wasn’t even looking for a new job so soon after his NBC departure, said the time he spent with Liguori at FX was positive enough that he couldn’t resist signing on. While there, the duo turned FX into a basic cable powerhouse, launching hit skeins such as “Nip/Tuck” and “The Shield.”
“I had a pleasant flashback to the time in my career that was the best run I ever had,” Reilly said. “I was energized, and it gave me a desire to go back to work. I wouldn’t have done it in any other situation. I didn’t need the job. I wasn’t feeling overly wounded.”
Of course, given what happened at NBC, “On a competitive level, I was pissed,” he said — noting that he’ll be entering a very different environment from the one he left.
“I would have loved to take six months off and then do it, but it’s there now,” Reilly said. “And I don’t feel like I’m going back into an uphill battle.”
Liguori said the reteaming “fit like a glove.”
Paraphrasing a quote by Tom Freston, Liguori added, “You only get a chance to work with someone like Kevin Reilly twice in a lifetime.”
“One of the darker days in my career was when he left for NBC,” Liguori said. “Kevin and I remained close friends and fierce competitors while he was at NBC. I look forward to reteaming with him. We have a shorthand and a comfort level.”
While Reilly and Liguori share a bond from their days together at FX, people familiar with their relationship say the two men weren’t close personal friends — not in the way, at least, that Reilly and McPherson are close.
The Fox shakeup returns the News Corp.-owned net to what had become an almost familiar pattern. Until Gail Berman’s relatively peaceful five-year run at Fox, net had become known for making some sort of major exec change about once every two years or so. The difference this time, of course, is that Liguori is staying with Fox.
When asked whether it was necessary to bring in another layer to the entertainment division, Liguori said he could “think of no better way of further cementing momentum at Fox than bringing Kevin on board.”
“It’s almost like the approach the Yankees have,” said Liguori, a rabid baseball fan. “What can you do to improve your team? What can you do to extend from being No. 1 three years in a row to being No. 1 for four years in a row?”
Liguori’s move follows weeks of speculation about his own fate. There’d been talk that Liguori could be on shaky ground himself, perhaps exiting in late fall if his new shows don’t work out.
As part of his new role at the net, where he’d been entertainment prexy since 2005, Liguori has been tapped to “develop new models for Fox broadcast content to best leverage the brands across all emerging platforms.”
Liguori said the industry and News Corp. have grown to the point that it made sense to reinstate the chairman position and allow him to focus on bigger-picture issues.
“Since I’ve been at the net, News Corp. has changed a hell of a lot, with MySpace and Fox Interactive Media,” Liguori said. “This network does need to spend a little more time figuring out how it can take advantage of digital platforms. Linear TV is becoming more challenging, and the advertising world has changed a heck of a lot.”
It’s also not the first time that Fox’s entertainment division has operated with both a chairman and a president — although the circumstances have been different each time. For most of Berman’s tenure, she worked with Sandy Grushow, who oversaw both the net and 20th Century Fox TV studio as Fox Entertainment Group chairman. Also, Fox Sports czar David Hill wore dual hats for a time as Fox Entertainment chairman, working with entertainment prexies Peter Roth and Doug Herzog.
Meanwhile, as one exec enters, another exits: Erwich’s ankling his post came as a direct response to Reilly’s hiring as entertainment prexy.
“There is not enough of a meaningful job, and so he’s decided to move on,” Liguori told Daily Variety.
ch will leave Fox Broadcasting, Liguori said he’s “trying to keep Craig within News Corp. in some form.” Just what sort of gig Liguori had in mind was unclear, but the exec was effusive in his praise of Erwich.
“He’s a beloved, respected, outstanding executive,” he said. “Unfortunately, the restructuring doesn’t offer him the challenges he needs.”
Erwich said he and Liguori discussed the idea of Erwich staying at the network but that they quickly realized it didn’t make sense. As exec VP, Erwich did more than just oversee development and current programs. Liguori also let Erwich get involved in marketing, publicity and dealmaking.
“With the additional layer (of management), it was just not going to be that way anymore,” Erwich said. “It was time to move on. I’ve literally grown up here, and part of growing up is you have to leave.”
Erwich is a veteran of several Fox administrations, going all the way back to John Matoian and including Peter Roth, Doug Herzog, Sandy Grushow, Gail Berman and Liguori. He had a hand in developing or overseeing production of skeins such as “24,” “Family Guy,” “That ’70s Show,” “Prison Break” and “Bones.”
Exec isn’t sure what his next move will be, though he confirmed that he is talking to other News Corp. units about potential roles. He also said he’s interested in “other parts of the business beyond network, scripted” television and may be interested in a gig that would “prepare for where our business is headed.”
“Right now, after 12 years, I’m just going to spend one week without reading a script,” Erwich said.
Before taking over as exec VP four years ago, Erwich worked as both head of drama development and head of current programming.
“He’s passionate about great TV,” said Roth, now president of Warner Bros. TV. “I’m certain he will end up in a terrific place. He always aspires to the best of what a show could be and helps to nurture those who can achieve that.”