Fox Broadcast, Studio Chiefs Talk Network’s Future, ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Last Man Standing’

Dana Walden Gary Newman Fox TCA
Frank Micelotta

Dana Walden opened with a joke.

“Not since my kids were little have I been asked so many times about going to Disney,” Walden said Thursday at the top of her Television Critics Association summer press tour executive session with fellow Fox Television group co-CEO Gary Newman.

The two executives’ futures have been the subject of intense speculation as the Walt Disney Co. moves closer to completing its acquisition of the bulk of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment properties — with Walden expected to move to Disney and Newman expected to continue with Fox Broadcasting. On Thursday, the two talked about how the network will transition to a new structure once Disney acquires studio 20th Century Fox Television.

“We see this as an opportunity to get vibrant independent studios back on the map,” Walden said. She indicated that companies such as Warner Bros. Television and Sony Pictures Television could become the primary suppliers of programming to the network. “At new Fox, they’ll have more opportunities because the independents will be on an even playing field with everyone else.”

As part of a transition to the new structure, Walden said that half of the network’s development for 2019-2020 will come from 20th Century Fox TV and half from other studios.

Should the Disney acquisition clear regulatory hurdles, Fox Broadcasting would become the only major U.S. broadcast network unaffiliated with a studio. It’s new structure would also change its relationship to its existing programming — the majority of which is produced by 20th Century Fox TV and thus will be owned by Disney post-deal. That includes “The Simpsons,” one of the longest running programs in television history.

Walden asserted that “The Simpsons” is “so much a part of the Fox brand” that “there are no plans for them to go anywhere other than Fox.” Newman added, “I feel confident that Disney and Fox are going to find a way to both have an interest in that show and I anticipate it continuing to stay on the Fox network.”

The execs were also asked about recent controversy over the character of Apu, who became a subject of criticism after the premiere last year of documentary “The Problem With Apu,” which explored the character’s stereotypical representation of South Asians. “We have had conversations with [executive producer] Jim Brooks and his team. We left it up to them,” Walden said. The show was criticized for an initial response last season that many perceived as dismissive. “We definitely trust them to handle it in a way that is best for their show.”

Newman and Walden also addressed the programming complexion of the network going forward, with “Thursday Night Football” set to begin on Fox this fall and “WWE Smackdown” coming to the network on Friday nights beginning next year.

“The broadcast network will still have the same mix that we have now,” Walden said, looking to dispel persisting notions that Fox Broadcasting will shift toward reality and sports programming. She noted that even with Thursday nights in fall going to the NFL and Friday nights year-round going to WWE “there’s still so much to program.”

Newman and Walden also addressed several programming specifics:

• The network was unswayed by fan campaigns to save Warner Bros. TV’s “Lucifer,” which Fox canceled this spring and was picked up last month by Netflix. “It’s not an inexpensive show,” Walden said. “We just made a decision that ultimately it wasn’t performing.”

• Fox is developing two potential spinoffs of “24.” “We think it still has a lot of power and a lot of legs,” Newman said of the franchise.

• Tim Allen’s character on “Last Man Standing” will apparently not be as outspoken in his support for President Donald Trump as the actor who plays him is. “Right now the producer’s plans are not to address whether or not the character is a Trump supporter,” Newman said. “Clearly he is a character with a conservative viewpoint.” Newman added that the character is somewhat a centrist.

• Newman also said that 20th Century Fox TV is still in very early stages of its “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” reboot. “We’ve sat down with the creators and had conversations with them about it,” he said. “That’s a very exciting prospect. It’s still fairly early. We haven’t pitched it to any possible licensees yet. And all that is still to come.”