×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Mike Darnell to Exit Fox, Ending Era for Colorful Exec

Longtime alternative chief helped build network and industry-wide growth of unscripted programming

An era has ended at Fox with Friday’s news that Mike Darnell is stepping down after 18 years as a top programming exec at the network.

Darnell confirmed he would step down from his post as prexy of alternative entertainment at Fox when his contract is up next month. Darnell and Fox positioned the departure as his decision, but his departure comes on the heels of “American Idol” falling to record lows and a mixed track record for the network in unscripted programming of late. On Thursday, Fox’s most recent competition reality skein, “Does Someone Have to Go?,” bowed to a weak 1.3 rating/4 share in the adults 18-49 demographic in the 9 p.m. slot behind “Hell’s Kitchen.”

SEE ALSO: Mike Darnell’s Greatest Hits

Nonetheless, Darnell has been a pillar of the network for nearly 20 yeas, and his departure promoted a comment from the big boss, News Corp. chairman-CEO Rupert Murdoch.

“Mike took risks at a critical time and was a pioneering force in shaping the reality programming genre that exists today,” Murdoch said. “He’s a smart and fearless executive who will be missed.”

Darnell has a well-earned reputation as one of the most colorful personalities in the network biz. A former child actor, the exec is known for sporting wide-brim cowboy hats and fringy shirts. As a programmer, he’s been a trailblazer who helped fuel the boom in unscripted programming with everything from “Cops” to tabloidy clip shows (“World’s Scariest Police Chases,” “When Animals Attack”) to the competition boom dominated for years by “American Idol.”

“I’ve been in ‘Reality’ since before it was even called that, and it has truly been an amazing ride,” he said. “However, the world has changed drastically over the last few years and now with hundreds of channels and limitless ways to watch television, I’ve decided this was the perfect time to take advantage of the rapidly changing marketplace.”

Darnell said he would take his time in determining his next move. Among the advisers he’s leaning on is WME reality chief Mark Itkin. He said there are “a lot of options on the table” and emphasized that he’s “not even close to making a decision.”

Darnell joined Fox in 1994 as director of specials after working for eight years at Fox’s Los Angeles O&O KTTV and the Fox Television Stations Group. Among the properties he supervised at the News Corp. broadcast outlet were “Idol,” of course, but also “The X Factor,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” and the trio of cooking-themed reality programs featuring Gordon Ramsay: “Masterchef,” “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Kitchen Nightmares.” Also under his aegis: “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader.”

Among his other achievements at Fox was bringing young animator Seth MacFarlane into the fold. “Family Guy” was developed through Darnell’s division as an alternative series project in 1998.

Darnell also gave birth to some programming firestorms. The 2000 program “Who Wants To Marry A Multi-Millionaire, ” sparked outrage among select advocacy groups when it was revealed the “multi-millionaire” at the center of the show, which married him off to the winner, had a restraining order filed against him for domestic abuse. The 2001 series “Temptation Island” asked couples potentially to engage in sexual activity outside of an already established romantic relationship. A 2003 episode of reality show “Married By America” sparked an indecency fine (and long-running legal fight) with the FCC over an episode with a heavy dose of sexual content.

Darnell’s shows were often ratings-grabbers, but ad-sales executives at Fox often bemoaned early reality specials such as “When Animals Attack,” because they often made sponsors nervous.

More TV

  • The Good Doctor

    Series Mania: Freddie Highmore Talks ‘The Good Doctor,’ Arsenal, Norman Bates

    LILLE, France —  God, Freddie Highmore’s good at crying. There’s a scene in “Neverland,” screened at his Series Mania masterclass, where he’s acting opposite Johnny Depp. His mother has just died. Highmore sits on a park bench, clutching a notebook, which she helped as tears well in his eyes, and he tries to keep in [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

  • Norman Reedus and Ryan Hurst'The Walking

    Norman Reedus on 'The Walking Dead' Without Andrew Lincoln: 'He's With Me Every Day'

    After saying goodbye to most of the original cast on “The Walking Dead,” Norman Reedus still feels his former co-stars with him during each episode. “I’ve seen so many people come and go,” he said during a “Walking Dead” panel on Friday at PaleyFest. “Right now on the show, the ghosts of all those guys [...]

  • Series Mania: De Mensen, Reel One

    Series Mania: First Details on Co-Pro Pitching Project 'Capturing Big Mouth' (EXCLUSIVE)

    LILLE, France — Belgian production company De Mensen, which has just been acquired by France’s Newen, has teamed with Reel One Entertainment on a new cross-continental thriller series, “Capturing Big Mouth. The series will be pitched Monday at this year’s Series Mania Forum Co-pro Pitching section. It chronicles the unlikely rise and eventual fall of [...]

  • Daily Show Viacom

    Viacom, DirecTV Make Progress in Contract Talks, No Blackout After Deadline Passes

    UPDATED: Viacom and DirecTV executives went down to the wire Friday on a combative contract renewal negotiation with high stakes for both sides. The companies stayed in talks past the midnight Eastern contract expiration and the channels stayed up on AT&T’s platforms. Sources indicated early Saturday that the threat of a blackout had been averted. [...]

  • ABBY'S -- "Pilot" Episode 101 --

    TV Review: 'Abby's' Starring Natalie Morales

    “Abby’s,” NBC’s new comedy about a cranky bartender (Natalie Morales) and her inner circle of regulars, is aware of the inevitable “Cheers” comparisons. Created by “New Girl” writer Josh Malmuth and executive produced by uber-producer (and unabashed “Cheers” superfan) Mike Schur, “Abby’s” therefore makes a few key choices in order to differentiate itself as its [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content