The Walt Disney Co. announced that Rice and Walden will come aboard to lead the conglomerate’s non-sports television operations. Rice has been named chairman, Walt Disney Television and co-chair, Disney Media Networks. Walden has been named chairman, Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment Landgraf will serve as Chairman of FX Networks and FX Productions. Knell will serve as Chairman of National Geographic Partners.
“The strength of 21st Century Fox’s first-class management talent has always been a compelling part of this opportunity for us,” said Robert A. Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company. “Upon completion of the acquisition, this new structure positions these proven leaders to help drive maximum value from a greatly enhanced portfolio of incredible brands and businesses.”
With the announcement, the leadership of Disney’s vastly important entertainment television unit is now coming into focus nine months after the company made official its plans to acquire the bulk of Fox’s film and TV business. In his new role, Rice will oversee ABC Television Network, ABC Studios, the ABC Owned Television Stations Group, Disney Channels, Freeform, Twentieth Century Fox Television, FX Networks and FX Productions, Fox 21 Television Studios, and the National Geographic channels. Walden, Landgraf, and Knell will report to him, as will Disney Channels Worldwide president and chief creative officer Gary Marsh and ABC News president James Goldston.
“I love making television and have been fortunate to work with incredibly talented executives and storytellers. Disney is the world’s preeminent creative company, and I look forward to working for Bob, and with his exceptional leadership team, to build on that amazing legacy,” Rice said. “I also want to thank Rupert, Lachlan and James Murdoch for the privilege of working on such a wide array of movies and television, both entertainment and sports. It has been a wonderful thirty years.”
Walden will head all of Disney’s TV-studio operations as well as broadcast network ABC and cable channel Freeform. Repoting to Walden will be ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey, ABC Studios president Patrick Moran, 20th Century Fox Television presidents Jonathan Davis and Howard Kurtzman, Fox 21 Television Studios president Bert Salke, Freeform president Tom Ascheim, and ABC Owned TV Stations Group president Wendy McMahon.
For Walden and Rice, the move takes both from a longtime home. Before moving to the television side of the business in 2009 — and eventually being named president of 21st Century Fox — Rice rose through the company’s ranks as a feature-film executive. Walden came up at 20th Century Fox Television, eventually becoming co-head of the studio alongside Gary Newman. The execs were named co-CEOs of Fox Television Group, gaining oversight of Fox Broadcasting — in 2014. But by going to Disney, they stay with the business units they have spent years leading.
Rice has, since well before rumors of a Disney-Fox deal first surfaced late last year, long been seen as a potential successor to Disney CEO Robert Iger, whose contract runs through 2021. By bringing Rice and Walden aboard, Disney is effectively acknowledging the strength of Fox’s TV management.
Broadcast network ABC, the crown jewel of Disney’s non-sports TV business, has struggled in recent years. Last season saw the successful launch of a reboot of “American Idol,” revival of family comedy “Roseanne,” and premiere of high-rated freshman drama “The Good Doctor.” “Idol,” however, progressed through most of its first season on ABC clearing the low end of ratings expectations; the success of “Roseanne” was all but wiped away by racist remarks that led to star Roseanne Barr being jettisoned from the show, which is undergoing a title change for next season; and “The Good Doctor” was developed by Sony Pictures TV, not in-house ABC Studios, which last year lost its top creator Shonda Rhimes to Netflix.
Landgraf and Knell’s new positions keep them in place atop FX and National Geographic, respectively — and give them a degree of autonomy, as both will continue to report to Rice rather than be grouped into Walden’s channel and studio group.
The new execs will officially come aboard when Disney’s pending acquisition of the bulk of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment businesses. Ben Sherwood, currently co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television Group, will stay in place until after the deal closes — expected to happen early next year — to guide help with the transition. Sherwood’s departure from Disney had been expected since lat month, when Disney lost out in its bid for Sky News. With Rice long anticipated to take Sherwood’s current job post-merger, Sherwood had been eyeing an opportunity to lead enlarged Sky.
“I want to personally thank Ben Sherwood for his years of service at ABC and Disney,” Iger said. “Ben has been a valued colleague, and I deeply appreciate his many contributions and insights, as well as his professionalism and cooperation in this transition.”
With Walden’s exit, her longtime executive Gary Newman is expected to stay at Fox. Newman, as has been previously reported, is in the final stages of negotiations to remain at post-deal 21st Century Fox and lead Fox Broadcasting.