Business as usual with new additions

It’s business as usual — at least for now — at Fox Entertainment.

With less than two months before the network’s May upfront presentation in New York, Fox programmers were suddenly given two new bosses last week.

Such a shift would normally produce upheaval and uncertainty in the network world.

But Rupert Murdoch’s decision to give Fox Networks Group president-CEO Tony Vinciquerra oversight of Fox’s programming operations — and Fox Searchlight prexy Peter Rice’s surprise appointment as Fox Entertainment chairman — didn’t give Fox execs much cause for concern.

Fox programmers met with Rice late last week and came away with a sense that their creative sensibilities will mesh well with those of an exec who championed features such as “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Little Miss Sunshine.”

Rice is no stranger to the Fox crew. Rice and Fox Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly have been friendly and complimentary to each other in the past and have similar reputations for championing critically acclaimed fare.

Still, insiders say that more changes are likely to come and that the restructuring will resonate throughout the entire company.

Reilly’s job is safe — particularly since it will take time for Rice to bone up on the TV industry. Reilly’s lieutenant, exec VP Matt Cherniss, isn’t going anywhere either.

The one change in Fox’s program exec ranks — drama chief Laura Lancaster’s move to NBC — was in the works prior to last week’s restructuring. (Peacock drama exec Terence Carter is expected to run the Fox drama department with Rachel Bendavid.)

Vinciquerra had already been in charge of the Fox Television Network’s operations, so he’s a well-known commodity inside the net. What’s more, his appointment had been expected once Peter Chernin announced his departure.

Vinciquerra also has bigger fish to fry. With everyone focusing on the broadcast network, the biggest change to Vinciquerra’s empire went under-reported last week: Vinciquerra has now been handed oversight of Fox Intl. Channels, a portfolio of more than 150 outlets around the globe.

Beyond simply overseeing the FIC channels, Vinciquerra will also oversee more international co-productions as FIC gets into business with other entities such as NBC and CTV (its partners on “The Listener”) and Fox TV Studios (its partner on “Mental”).

With Vinciquerra in charge of so much, Fox Entertainment is just a sliver of what he oversees and thus probably won’t take up too much attention. Synergies between News Corp. cablers and Fox Broadcasting may come easier — but already were taking place and will continue to be applied sparingly, insiders said.

Internally, the biggest relationship question will now center on Fox’s give-and-take with sister studio 20th Century Fox TV.

A few years ago, both sides reported to the Fox Entertainment chairman — at that time, Sandy Grushow. But once Grushow departed News Corp., 20th Century Fox TV toppers Dana Walden and Gary Newman began reporting directly to Chernin.

That meant Chernin made the ultimate call when disputes erupted between network and studio.

Now, with the net reporting to Vinciquerra and the studio reporting to Fox Filmed Entertainment’s Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, the two sides may have to settle those disputes on their own.

That may cause some confusion — but insiders said it could also improve the relationship between network and studio. Chernin was notorious for sometimes pitting 20th and FBC against each other based on the philosophy that the best deal will ultimately come out of such a battle.

With no Chernin to arbitrate such battles — and given the sour economic climate — it probably behooves both sides to play nice.

If there’s any question mark to the new setup, network execs wonder how active Murdoch plans to be in the pilot screenings this year. In recent years the mogul hasn’t played much of a role in Fox’s programming decisions, but with Chernin out of the picture, some wonder if Murdoch will feel the need to have more of a say this spring as the net plots its upfront presentation.

Meanwhile, Fox execs expressed relief at the restructuring — there was a general consensus that they dodged a bullet given who could have been handed the programming reins.

But they did convey their disappointment at the departure of Peter Liguori, who most expect will quickly land on his feet. The exec was already rumored to be in line for at least one position, but it’s still probably too soon to predict what he’ll ultimately do.

“I could see him as a chief marketing officer for some big company,” one exec said.

Liguori was universally admired at the network; not only did his strategic skills and marketing prowess helped reinvigorate FX, which he led before joining Fox, but his partnership with Reilly was seen as strong and complementary.

But insiders noted that Liguori didn’t have a strong relationship with Murdoch, which made him vulnerable to what ultimately transpired. Liguori wound up being expendable as Murdoch looked for ways to keep Rice — whose contract was up next year — in the fold.

Rice had made some rumblings that he was looking at what to do next — and was interested in new challenges. He didn’t push for the TV job, but Murdoch saw an opportunity for Rice at Fox and also a chance to inject the network with some new blood.

That’s led to plenty of speculation that Murdoch is grooming Rice to eventually take a Chernin-sized No. 2 job at News Corp. That may be true, but corporate insiders warn not to jump to such conclusions.

For now, Rice has his hands full. It’s no secret that the network TV landscape is in trouble, and Murdoch has made it clear: Rice is there to “grow and remodel” the biz.

Fox itself has programming holes that have been well hidden by the phenomenal success of “American Idol.” Its biggest concern is finding a live-action comedy hit.

How Rice may ultimately transform Fox Entertainment remains to be seen; for now, Rice is about to get a crash course in primetime programming.

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