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TCA Preview: Fox Executives to Face Grilling About Network’s Future

Give the senior management team at Fox Broadcasting Co. credit for courage. The network’s four top executives will meet the press Thursday on the first day of the winter Television Critics Association press tour, when they are sure to face a fusillade of questions about the fate of the network in light of Disney’s $52.4 billion acquisition of key 21st Century Fox assets.

The Disney-Fox deal unveiled Dec. 13 has spurred a host of speculation about the future of the Fox broadcast network, which is not among the assets in Disney’s shopping cart. Fox Television Group chairman Gary Newman and Dana Walden will hold a Q&A session with journalists at the Langham Huntington hotel in Pasadena, Calif., along with newly appointed entertainment president Michael Thorn and alternative programming chief Rob Wade.

The separation of the Fox network from its 20th Century Fox TV studio sibling sparked immediate speculation that the network will evolve into a news and sports-focused outlet. That would mark a seismic shift for the U.S. TV landscape, a little more than a quarter century after Rupert Murdoch shook up the status quo with his bold entry into the arena that had been dominated by CBS, NBC and ABC for decades.

But sources close to the situation say the expectation that scripted entertainment programming will disappear from Fox’s airwaves is premature. The Fox team that takes the stage at the Langham will surely have some talking points prepped about the near-term plan for the network.

The Disney-Fox transaction is expected to take at least 12 months to wend through the regulatory approval process, which means the group might emphasize “business as usual” for the foreseeable future.

The session also comes amid widespread speculation that Walden is being heavily courted by Disney for a senior role in the enlarged company and by Amazon to fill the gaping hole at the top of their studio. There is no chance she won’t be grilled about her professional plans on Thursday. Newman, for his part, is said to be leaning toward staying at the slimmed-down 21st Century Fox to lead the broadcast network.

The frenzy of questioning will continue on Friday when FX follows its older sibling onto the TCA stage. The FX Networks division is among the assets that Disney is buying. CEO John Landgraf has become famous for his thoughtful and candid state-of-the-industry discussions during his TCA Q&A sessions. This time around, he will have to address the question of how FX’s brand of edgy, boundary-pushing programs can co-exist in the House of Mouse. But even more dogged is sure to be the questioning about his own future plans, as Disney has yet to formally offer any hints about future management plans.

Landgraf is also sure to face many questions about FX’s relationship with Louis C.K., the disgraced comedian, writer and producer who has been a force behind numerous FX series including his own “Louie” and the current comedies “Better Things” and “Baskets.” FX cut ties with C.K. in November after he acknowledged engaging in sexual misconduct with other female comedians over the years.

The rest of TCA may well be anti-climactic after the Fox and FX sessions. For sure, the national reckoning over sexual harassment allegations that have rocked the industry since the downfall of Harvey Weinstein in October will be a frequent topic of discussion.

Here’s a rundown of the rest of the TCA schedule:

Jan. 6: CBS and Showtime

Jan. 7: The CW

Jan. 8: ABC and Disney cable

Jan. 9: NBC and NBCUniversal cable

Jan. 10: Studio set visits

Jan. 11: HBO, Audience Network, Turner

Jan. 12: BBC America, ESPN, Starz, IFC, Discovery

Jan. 13: YouTube, National Geographic Channels, AMC Networks

Jan. 14: Hulu, Pop, Crackle, A+E Networks

Jan. 15: Paramount Network, BET, Comedy Central, Acorn TV

Jan. 16-17: PBS

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