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Producer Simon Andreae to Head Reality at Fox (EXCLUSIVE)

Net settles on Discovery alum after long search for Mike Darnell's successor

Five months after longtime alternative chief Mike Darnell exited the network, Fox has finally found a new leader for its unscripted division.

Simon Andreae has been officially hired to run reality at the network, Fox confirmed today. Andreae had been a frontrunner during the lengthy hiring process, as Variety previously reported.

“This was a highly sought-after role in town, and given Fox’s legacy in groundbreaking unscripted entertainment, we were looking for a particular caliber of executive – and we found the perfect fit in Simon,” said the net’s chairman Kevin Reilly. “Not only is Simon known for innovative thinking, he’s a dynamic leader who has been a producer and a network executive on both sides of the pond, and he has the energy and drive to open a new chapter in Fox unscripted.”

News of Andreae’s hiring arrives just two months after the unscripted producer set up U.K. shingle Scarlet Media, with Sony Pictures TV backing the company. Scarlet Media venture followed Andreae’s tenure as senior vice prez of west coast development and production for Discovery Channel, where he handled programs including “Naked and Afraid” and “Fast N Loud.”

A Brit himself, Andreae was set to serve as managing director of London-based Scarlet Media. It is unclear at this time how his hiring by Fox will affect the terms of his Sony deal, or the continuation of Scarlet Media. Fox’s wide release, sent out after Variety reported on Andreae’s hiring, does not mention any affiliation to Sony or Scarlet Media.

Andreae’s credits in unscripted lean towards the factual end of the genre’s spectrum. Before his stint at Discovery, Andreae topped indie production company The Incubator, which produced shows including “Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman” and “Science of Sex Appeal.” Andreae has also led the Science and Education division of the U.K. network Channel Four.

Fox’s prolonged hiring process stands in contrast to recent exec shuffling made by networks including ABC, which quickly ushered in E! alum Lisa Berger to lead alternative just days after John Saade stepped down from the post. Insiders indicate that Fox chairman Kevin Reilly and COO Joe Earley mulled over dozens of candidates from both the network and production end of the reality space, homing in on a handful of top candidates by summer’s end. Fox was able to buy itself time in its search for a new reality chief by tapping former Fox Sports chairman David Hill to oversee the net’s tentpole shows, “American Idol” and “The X Factor,” shortly after Darnell’s departure. Hill will continue to work on these singing competitions as Andreae steps into the new post.

Many within the unscripted biz acknowledged during the hiring process that the person tapped to run Fox’s alternative division would have big shoes to fill after Darnell’s 18-year run at the net, where the colorful exec helped define the contempo template for primetime unscripted series. Programs that Andreae inherits from Darnell’s reign include “MasterChef,” “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Hell’s Kitchen,” along with “Idol” and “X Factor.”

Andreae will be tasked with rebuilding the reality division, as the majority of Darnell’s small team exited the network when the exec stepped down in May. Darnell has since landed at Warner Bros. where a position has been carved out for him to lead the studio’s unscripted and alternative arm.

Andreae’s challenges go beyond a mere restaffing of Fox’s alternative branch, though. The exec has several aging reality shows on his slate that have seen steady declines in ratings since Darnell’s golden years with “Idol.” “X Factor” continues to slump during its third run on the network, and “Idol” is hoping to refresh its brand for its January roll out of season 13. Insiders note that Andreae will be, in effect, providing hospice care to “Idol” and “X Factor” during his time at Fox. More niche reality shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “MasterChef” will likely continue to be utility players for the network, but overall, Andreae will have the opportunity to reinvent the Fox reality brand as the curtain falls on older shows.

“I’m very grateful to Kevin and his team for giving me this opportunity. My intention is to help build on Fox’s rich heritage of risk and innovation and to help support and extend its range of category-defining shows and world-leading talent,” Andreae said.

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