The 21st Century Fox restructuring that elevated Gary Newman and Dana Walden to uber posts overseeing Fox Broadcasting as well as the TV studio operation — as chairmen-CEOs of Fox Television Group — underscores how much the network biz has become the tail that wags the dog of content production.
The longtime 20th Century Fox TV titans are taking on oversight of all entertainment operations of the network in a reorg that follows Kevin Reilly’s departure as Fox Broadcasting’s programmer in chief in June. Fox is in serious rebuilding mode as former ratings darling “American Idol” virtually collapsed last year and the network has struggled to launch and sustain new scripted hits.
It’s no secret there have been clashes between Fox Broadcasting management and the priorities of 20th Century Fox TV. With the broadcast network biz facing a host of challenges industrywide, the network-studio congloms are turning to their production operations as the best opportunity to profit from licensing around the world and the ravenous appetite among digital buyers for programming.
Within 21st Century Fox, the restructuring also reinforces the clear long-term plan to have Fox Networks Group CEO Peter Rice eventually overseeing all TV and film operations on the Fox lot. The 20th TV operation previously reported directly to prexy-COO Chase Carey, but as Newman and Walden take on vastly more turf at Fox Broadcasting, they will now report to Rice. (The duo will oversee all network operations other than advertising sales and affiliate relations, which reports into Fox Networks Group COO Randy Freer.)
In a conference call Monday, Newman and Walden emphasized that 20th TV and its affiliates — including Fox Television Studios and Fox 21 banners — would continue to operate autonomously, with its own P&L in the 21st Century Fox corporate hierarchy.
The studio will continue its tradition of selling aggressively to outside buyers as well as Fox outlets. And Fox Broadcasting will continue to have its doors open to outside suppliers. But there is no doubt that if the real money these days is to be made through content sales et al — as 20th TV’s success with ABC’s “Modern Family” demonstrates — it makes strategic sense to have the same people at the helm of the studio and the network, which remains the showiest platform for new programming.
Newman and Walden also stressed that they would take time in assessing the executive structure and needs to both divisions now that their time will be more divided.
“We intend to take a very holistic look at these businesses,” Newman said. “In this day and age, you cannot look at the network business as a standalone” operation, he said, “you have to take a look at the whole picture of a program.”
That focus on maximizing a show’s best chances of success will ensure that 20th TV will continue to seek out the best homes for various projects, even if outside 21st Century Fox’s walls.
“We’ll be looking at every piece of business individually,” Walden said. “By no means will this result in every 20th show getting picked up or every pilot ordered (at Fox). That’s not reasonable. That’s not a winning strategy. The best shows are going to win.”
Still, Walden and Newman acknowledged that there will undoubtedly be times when 20th TV’s involvement will tip the scales in situations where they face a close call between projects. Walden and Newman seen as logical choices to step up in the wake of Reilly’s departure, thanks to their 15-year track record of steering 20th TV as partners. But it’s telling that both said they would not have moved over to the network side if it meant giving up management of the studio.
Walden has been courted for network jobs in and outside of Fox for years.
“This opportunity is different,” she said. “This is about helping to strengthen the network while preserving and continuing to build on all that we have at the studio.”
Fox had an uber TV exec, Sandy Grushow, overseeing the studio and network from 1999 to the end of 2003. But that seems an eternity ago compared to where 20th TV stands today, producing 40-plus active series across broadcast and cable networks. (A sign of 20th TV’s reach was demonstrated by the fact that timing of the conference call had to be worked out so as not to impede on the previously scheduled Television Critics Assn. press tour session of the USA Network miniseries “Dig.” “Dig” hails from Israel’s Keshet and producer Gideon Raff, who are partnered with 20th TV on Showtime’s “Homeland” and FX’s “Tyrant.”)
Walden said another goal in uniting the management is to make the development process at Fox and 20th TV more streamlined for all involved. She and Newman both said they were “big believers” in broadcast TV but acknowledged that the creative edge at present is held by cable and digital outlets.
“The objective is to direct individual pieces of development at the studio to their best possible homes,” Walden said. The hope is to “be able to attract back to broadcast some of the creators who had a better experience in cable and digital. We’re hoping to make the experience of (developing) at a broadcast network a better one, one that woos great creators back to broadcast television.”