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Kevin Reilly’s Fox Exit Marks a Muscle-Flexing Moment for James Murdoch

The shakeup under way at Fox Broadcasting with Kevin Reilly’s departure as programming chief gives Murdoch a chance to set a fresh course for the network. James Murdoch, that is.

Reilly’s resignation, confirmed May 29 after weeks of speculation about his future, opens the door for James Murdoch to put his stamp on the network, following his promotion in March to co-chief operating officer at 21st Century Fox alongside Chase Carey. Fox Broadcasting’s direct boss, Fox Networks Group chairman-CEO Peter Rice, now reports to Murdoch.

The sudden vacancy at the network, which remains the company’s flagship operation in terms of public profile, if not profitability (that crown goes to the cable division), offers Murdoch a chance to demonstrate his strategic vision in a sector facing major headwinds.

In fact, the challenges of the broadcast business in general and Fox in particular make Reilly’s replacement a crucial choice for the parent company. It’s telling about the state of the biz these days that two of the most likely suspects to be considered for the post — FX Networks chief John Landgraf and 20th Century Fox TV studio co-topper Dana Walden — may not want the aggravation that comes with the job. Fox insiders noted that both Landgraf and Walden would be loath to give up their existing perches for the arduous task of rebuilding Fox.

For sure, the network is deep in hard-hat territory for the foreseeable future. “American Idol” collapsed this past year, “The X Factor” is gone, and whoever comes into the job inherits Reilly’s development. The next Fox programming chief will need thick skin, a big bottle of Maalox and the support of a few key Murdochs.

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