Fox TV Group COO Joe Earley shocked the industry with the announcement that he was stepping down from his role and leaving Fox after 21 years at the company. “I’m excited,” he tells Variety. “It’s a big relief to be fully transparent. The transition has been underway without people realizing it. Now it’s great that we can be open about it.”
Here, he tells Variety about the transition plans at Fox, his plans for the future, and his dream job.
How long has this plan been in the works?
We’ve been talking about this since last spring, actually. We just need to make sure that everything was in place, that the team was good, that we had our new CMO, that we got through the fall launch. Now’s a pretty good time as we’ve launched the fall, but we still have midseason on the horizon. Dana (Walden) and Gary (Newman) have been incredibly supportive and understanding, and Peter Rice as well. They’ve always known that my drive has been more about creative. The opportunities that they’ve given me, the more I’ve succeeded, the further and further I’ve gotten away from that. They’re wonderful and are allowing me to pursue what will give me more creative fulfillment.
What will give you that fulfillment?
I definitely want to closer to the creative. It isn’t that I have the next job that I’m going to right now, because I want to see what opportunities there are to be really involved in the early part of creative at every level. I’ve become increasingly more operational at the company here, so any interaction with creative is going to get me closer to what I want to do. So I’m looking for that. My key goal is to be hands-on with that.
Does that mean producing or promoting TV shows?
It’s more about producing them. Promoting them will always come naturally to me, and that’s something I will bring to the table. I began my career in physical development, and then in creative development with Gale Anne Hurd. Then, as often happens in this business, I received one opportunity after another that pulled me away from that. I always charted a course back to it. At this company, they have afforded me so many opportunities to learn, and I’ve always been fulfilled by learning. And time and time again, when I thought, OK, now I know that, I’ve been given another opportunity. So I’m nothing but appreciative. But I’ve followed all of that learning and strayed from that original plan to be more hands-on. Now it’s time, and I have all of the support of everyone in only the most positive way.
Have you started those conversations yet?
No, because we wanted to do the announcement first. We didn’t want there to be any leaking or have anyone misconstrue what was happening. Those conversations start today! Also, having a PR background, I’m well aware of how things leak and having things done in the right manner, so it was important to not be discussing things with people.
What will the new structure at Fox look like? You’re not being replaced.
No one’s going to miss a beat. Everyone works so well together. I’m really excited about where the network is going. And I get to sleep in for a couple of days.
Will this have any impact on entertainment president David Madden?
No. David’s always been independent. The different areas that I oversaw — those are just being reconfigured. Nothing impacts the programming side.
How did Dana and Gary take the news?
They treated me more like a friend and a colleague. I’ll always be appreciative of that. We’ve worked together for so many years that they’ve been very supportive and amazingly so.
Will you be starting your own banner?
If I were launching my own banner, that I would be announcing today! I’m looking for the next opportunity that will take advantage of my experience and skillset and someplace that already has a pipeline to distribution.
Could you imagine that being at Fox?
I hope so! A lot of people here are like family to me. Like Dana and Gary, who I’ve been working for for a year and a half and I’ve been working for my entire career probably in some capacity even when they were in different roles at the studio. Nothing would make happier than if the next opportunity brings me back to working with either the studio or the network, or both.
And Peter Rice?
He’s been a mentor of sorts to me. I would love the opportunity to continue to work with him in some way.
What types of shows are you most interested in creating?
Having had the fortune to work on such a huge array of programs over the years, I like scripted, unscripted, drama, comedy. I tend personally toward more pop culture type of programming. From earlier marketing career at the network, I’ve had shows like “Glee,” “New Girl,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Empire,” “Scream Queens.” I like really fun, pop fare. And the opportunity that I’ve had over the years to work with people like J.J. Abrams, Ryan Murphy, Danny Strong, Lee Daniels, Brian Grazer — I’ve been so, so fortunate and had a peek into all those worlds. And on the unscripted side, from “American Idol” to the Mike Darnell days to “Simple Life,” which I think was ahead of its time. I’m just excited to really drill down on shows, as opposed to have many, many departments that require a lot of operational oversight, as opposed to creative.
How hard will it be to say goodbye to Fox?
While a small group of us have been talking about this since spring, it’s only a reality today. I’m choosing to live in a compartmentalized, detached world. I see my friends in the hallway, some of whom are like family who I’ve worked with for two decades, and I am going to process that over the transition of the coming weeks. I’m glad we’re going to have a nice transition time. In an ideal world, I’m going to be making a show that the studio and network will work on. Then I’ll get to be the best partner that they have ever had. That’s my goal.
What accomplishment are you proudest of?
The thing I’m most proud of is the team that’s been built. The people. They’re phenomenal.
What one lesson have you learned?
I think I’ve learned a million things. The biggest thing is to be aware of what you don’t know, that you’re always learning.