Duo sign new long-term deals

There’s stability atop 20th Century Fox Television: Toppers Gary Newman and Dana Walden have inked new long-term deals and snagged promotions to chairs of the studio.

Duo, who had shared the title of president at the studio since late 1999, are now the only major TV studio toppers to boast a chair title. Structure mirrors that in place at Fox Filmed Entertainment, where Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos have served as chairmen since 2000 (and CEOs since last year).

“For us, it means we’re being recognized for the work we’ve done together with an enormously talented group of people,” Walden said. Newman added that running a TV studio for nearly a decade “has been an interesting and fun job to have.”

“It really made it more satisfying to have someone to share it with,” he said. “God knows there is plenty of stress and difficulties in this line of work. It’s nice to have a partner at your side.”

News Corp. prexy-chief operating officer Peter Chernin said Walden’s and Newman’s promotions are “richly deserved.”

“Under Gary and Dana’s leadership for the past decade, 20th Century Fox Television has achieved unparalleled success in the television marketplace and has been at the forefront of successfully leveraging new technologies to extend its hit franchises,” he said.

Newman and Walden were already exclusive to News Corp. under long-term deals signed in 2004. That means this promotion came without the same kind of lengthy negotiation that took place back then, when the duo’s contracts were up — and it was far from certain that a new deal would be struck.Reupping also comes as Chernin is dealing with a bit of exec shuffling at 20th’s sister network, Fox Broadcasting. Former NBC Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly has been talking to Chernin about joining the net, possibly alongside current entertainment chief Peter Liguori (Daily Variety, July 6).

As heads of 20th, Newman and Walden have developed a diverse slate of comedies (“Family Guy,” “How I Met Your Mother” “My Name Is Earl”), dramas (“24,” “Prison Break,” “Shark”) and reality shows (“Beauty and the Geek,” “The Simple Life”). Notably, in this vertically integrated age, several of those hits are for Fox’s rival webs, such as NBC’s “Earl” and the CW’s “Geek.”

“It’s in our best interest and in the interest of the network, if we maintain our independence,” Walden said. “That makes us a magnet to creators; they know they’ll have a level of freedom here to create their passion project. Thanks to the international nature of our company, Rupert (Murdoch) and Peter don’t care where your shows are, as long as they’re successful.”

Also, in recent years, the execs have overseen the launch of lower-cost production unit Fox 21 and the first studio-based mobile entertainment unit, which develops programming for wireless devices. They’ve also assumed control of Fox’s licensing and merchandising division, which exploits properties such as “The Simpsons” and “24” across a variety of platforms. And in 2002, they helped pioneer the now-standard practice of releasing TV shows on DVD shortly after their seasons ended — and well before shows hit syndication.

“A lot of what Peter Chernin pushed us to do was routinely look at our business and try and reinvent as much of it as we can,” Walden said. “The old model of the traditional studio is no longer what we aspire to be. This is a very dynamic business, and we’re at a very dynamic corporation.”

Looking ahead at the next few years, Walden said the studio (and its rivals) faces the challenge of producing programming at a cost that makes sense financially. Newman added that finding new ways to monetize shows is an issue.

“The traditional syndication marketplace for off-net programming is continuing to erode,” he said. “We need to succeed in developing that direct connection to the consumer. You see with electronic sell-through, streaming, pay-per-view and DVDs, all the tools are there to do it. But it isn’t yet a fully realized marketplace.”

Before she was named prexy of the studio, Walden was exec VP of drama at 20th, having served in creative posts at the studio since 1994. Newman was exec VP and 20th’s chief business officer before taking on the presidency with Walden.

Newman and Walden are the second longest-serving major TV studio toppers, having been in their gigs just a few months less than Warner Bros. TV’s Peter Roth.

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