Three years after it was upset, the balance of power on the Fox lot has been restored. News Corp.’s move to separate Fox’s TV production operations into a stand-alone business unit is designed to remove what News Corp. toppers Rupert Murdoch and Chase Carey had come to see as an unnecessary layer of management between 20th Century Fox TV chairs Gary Newman and Dana Walden and the corporate chiefs.The shift spurred by the pending departure of Tom Rothman on the film side brings the studio back to the management hierarchy that existed prior to Peter Chernin’s departure as News Corp. prexy-chief operating officer in mid-2009.
At that time, there was concern that Murdoch would have to juggle too many direct reports once Chernin was out of the picture, and it wasn’t clear if Carey would be able to extricate himself from DirecTV to return to News Corp. So the decision was made to have Newman and Walden report to Rothman and Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chair Jim Gianopulos.
It was no secret on the lot that the TV studio titans chafed at the shift given that the film and TV duos had been peers, both reporting to Chernin. Walden and Newman have successfully steered 20th Century Fox TV since 1999, giving them a longer tenure as division heads than Rothman and Gianopulos in film.
But even after Carey arrived as News Corp. prexy-COO in July 2009, Rothman and Gianopulos had already set new contracts that spelled out the TV studio operations as part of their domain. Having Newman and Walden report to Carey would have put the studio in breach with the film toppers.
Now, Newman and Walden are close to finalizing new long-term contracts. Knowledgeable sources say there’s no explicit stipulation that their reporting structure be changed. But Murdoch and Carey have been what a source described as “sensitive” to the wishes of Walden and Newman. Rothman’s exit was a natural opening for an overhaul.
The shift is also a recognition that the TV production side has been on a hot streak, commercially and creatively, with such influential hits as ABC’s “Modern Family,” Fox’s “New Girl” and “Glee,” Showtime’s “Homeland,” FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” and “American Horror Story” and USA Network’s “Burn Notice.”
In practice, sources said, there’s been very little friction between the TV toppers and Rothman and Gianopulos. Sources familiar with the situation described Rothman and Gianopulos as mostly hands off with the TV operations out of respect for Newman’s and Walden’s experience and long tenure.
But the TV toppers were still obligated to commit to a significant amount of reporting, updating and meeting time that was often duplicated when heavy-duty issues and decisions would inevitably wind up going up the chain to Carey and Murdoch anyway.
Industry observers said the TV wing’s success in fielding distinctive new shows may have added to pressure for a change on the film side. While 20th Century Fox has maintained its fiscal health even in lean times at the B.O., the industry perception is that Fox has not been as creatively adventurous or as filmmaker-friendly as other studios in recent years.
“Look at what Gary and Dana have done in TV,” said a top lit agent who is active in TV and film. “There’s a lot of good shows that have made money but also win Emmys.”