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Fox’s Dana Walden, Gary Newman Talk ‘Shock’ of Disney Deal, Decisions to Come

Fox’s Gary Newman kicked off the network’s executive session Thursday with a nod to the mouse in the room. As Newman welcomed reporters, the screens behind him displayed (heavily Photoshopped) images of him and his fellow Fox Television Group CEO Dana Walden enjoying themselves at Disneyland. But as Newman discussed the impact of Disney’s pending acquisition of the bulk of Fox’s entertainment assets, his tone sobered.

The Disney deal, which executives in both companies expect to close in 12-18 months, will see 20th Century Fox Television, the studio that has been Newman and Walden’s longtime home, migrate to the Burbank-based conglom while Fox Broadcasting, which the two execs gained oversight of in 2014, will stay with what Newman called “New Fox,” which will continue to be led by mogul Rupert Murdoch.

“The studio’s been my home for 28 years,” Newman said in his opening remarks. “It’s an incredible company with an unbelievable library of Emmy winners and culture-defining hits.” Newman referenced “MASH,” “The Simpsons,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” as well as more recent shows such “Empire,” “24,” “Modern Family,” and “Glee.” He added that he expects the studio’s talent roster “to stay that way for many years to come.”

Newman declined to give any indication as to whether he will stay with FBC at New Fox or make the move to Disney.

“I certainly did not mean to give any hints as to what the future might be,” Newman said when asked whether he had implied that he would not go to Disney with the studio. “The truth is we don’t really know. But I will tell you that we both remain very committed to the network and the studio.”

Walden told reporters after the session, “I clearly am going to have a decision to make. I love this company. I’ve spent 26 years here. I love the team. Gary and I have had a hand in putting virtually every person in place. I’m very committed to them.”

Speculation about her future — which is rampant with her being courted by Amazon for the top job as well as by Disney for a senior role — “wouldn’t be helpful or productive,” Walden said. “I’m very focused on the work that we’re doing right now at this company.”

“I was initially shocked,” she said of her initial reaction to news of the Disney deal. “It was a little stunning. Having worked there for such a long time and working so closely with the Murdochs, it didn’t seem to me like that was on the table, until I started talking to them about what this opportunity was.”

But, she added, “The shock was really quickly turned into a very clear view of what kind of opportunity this is and how protective the Murdochs were about making a decision about Disney when they had another companies courting them. I don’t believe that they would just turn these assets over to anyone.”

Newman told reporters after the session that he expected that 21st Century Fox Televisions and other Fox business units would thrive under the Disney umbrella.

“Even Disney now has labels that are producing edgier content,” he said. “I think they have some streaming and cable shows that you probably would not think of as ‘Disney’ content.” He said that Disney CEO Bob Iger “was pretty clear when we spoke that he loves our brand,”referring to the 20th Century Fox Television television studio. He added that Iger is “excited about the FX brand,” the cable channels that will along with the studio migrate to Disney.

As for Fox broadcasting, Newman — who is rumored to be leaning toward staying at New Fox to lead the broadcast network — said that he doesn’t expect the network’s programming strategy to shift dramatically in the immediate aftermath of the merger’s completion.

“I don’t really anticipate it looking different in a year and a half from the way it does now,” Newman said. “I think if you were to roll forward four or five years, my guess is there would be less 20th Century Fox Television programs on Fox. But I think if the first broadcast season [following the finalization of the Disney merger] were roughly about 18 months away, I don’t think that schedule’s going to look dramatically different from other schedules you’ve seen for Fox. There will be a lot of scripted programming. A lot of it will be from our own studio. There will be unscripted programming. Going forward, they’re going to run New Fox like they would run any other network.”

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