Fox shakeup tough to analyze

Executive shuffle brings peace...or does it?

Rupert Murdoch has realigned the reins of power on the Fox lot. But it remains to be seen if the studio’s new exec order will be strong enough to prevent tribal warfare from breaking out in Century City in the wake of Peter Chernin’s exit.

Chernin was famously adept at managing the strong personalities that populate the lot, and he did it so well that Fox has been known as a bastion of exec stability on the film and most of the TV side. (Fox Broadcasting, alas, has been a revolving door for execs since the network’s earliest days.)

Now, Rupert’s back in direct control of his Hollywood lieutenants, and he appears to be shaking things up. And where there’s uncertainty, even in the short term, there’s sure to be some jockeying and turf-defending as execs adjust to the new law of the land.

Murdoch’s biggest surprise was the decision to send the well-regarded Fox Searchlight prexy Peter Rice, fresh off the Oscar win for “Slumdog Millionaire,” to TV land, naming him to replace Peter Liguori as chairman of entertainment at Fox Broadcasting. That move sent industry tongues wagging.

Murdoch’s reorg is also a huge vote of confidence in his top film execs. Fox Filmed Entertainment bosses Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos gained a whole lot of turf and resources in taking on oversight of all TV production.

Twentieth Century Fox TV chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman, who now report to Rothman and Gianopulos, have logged a highly successful decade atop the TV studio. And as part of the shuffle, Walden and Newman will take on responsibility for the Fox Television Studios production wing, which had been run separately from 20th Century Fox ever since Chernin created it a dozen years ago.

Meanwhile, Rice and the rest of Fox Broadcasting will now report to Tony Vinciquerra, chairman of Fox Networks Group. The low-key Vinciquerra is known to be close to Murdoch and has been a growing influence on the TV side, where he already spearheaded a key profit center, Fox’s cable nets (other than Fox News Channel).

The new set-up would seem to increase the potential for fireworks between the TV studio and Fox net, where relations are known to have been a little chilly between execs in recent seasons (as is the norm for Big Four nets and their sibling studio wings).

As the undisputed overlord of the Fox lot, Chernin was always the one to settle disputes between the network and TV studio. Once that layer of uber-exec authority is gone, it could lead to some bare-knuckle brawls between the separate division toppers.

It seems highly unlikely that Murdoch, who has other far-flung businesses to manage, will step in to referee spats over day-to-day issues a la license fee renewals, marketing priorities and overages on episodic budgets.

In Rice’s wake, Fox Searchlight will be run jointly by chief operating officers Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula. Things are expected to stay mostly status quo at the unit that has shined in recent years with critical and commercial hits like “Slumdog,” “Juno” and “Little Miss Sunshine.”

But there was speculation that the lack of elevated titles for Utley and Gilula indicated that the door was left open to a new Searchlight topper being named down the road.

Murdoch emphasized in his note to staffers announcing the changes that he saw too many “unnecessary barriers” as he scrutinzed Fox’s operations in prepping the company for life after Chernin, who will segue as of June 30 into a highly lucrative six-year film and TV production deal with the studio.

Most of all, Murdoch seemed to be telling his troops that it’s imperative, given the rocky state of the global economy, that all of his execs strive to play well with others.

“Not only we will benefit as a business from these changes, but perhaps most importantly, I’m certain our end users — the millions of people around the world who every day enjoy our creative products — will see the benefits as well.”

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