Charlie Collier on Fox’s ‘Startup’ Mentality, Owning vs. Licensing and Finding a Hit Comedy

Charlie Collier AMC
John Shearer/Invision for AMC/AP Images

Charlie Collier is ready to rev up programming activity at Fox.

The newly appointed Fox Entertainment CEO spoke with Variety on Wednesday on the heels of his first major public appearance in the new role when he addressed the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif. Collier weighed in on the future of Fox Corp., how Fox will sell itself to the creative community and the new content incubation pact that Fox just set with producer Gail Berman.

How does Fox Entertainment work within the walls of the new Fox Corporation?

If you could be part of a startup company that happened to have one of the four broadcast networks, that would be pretty remarkable. And if you happened to have a startup company that had the NFL and those assets and some of the deals that pre-date me, what would you do with that? If you look at Fox Entertainment as a big rectangle, and then you decided that much of it today would be filled with Fox broadcast, what would you do to quickly compound value without adding overhead or undo infrastructure?

The first thing you realize is you’ve got flexibility in your deal structure that separates you from those who are scaling up. I could literally know all the names of every person, I can literally walk across the halls. What does that (smaller structure) allow you to do? It allows you to know all your creators, and have creative relationships. And it allows you to bolt on capabilities without necessarily then having to build infrastructure that’s beholden to them.

Fox is getting smaller while your biggest competitors are getting bigger. What are the advantages for you?

I get asked a lot about ‘Last Man Standing’ coming back to Fox. And it came back to Fox so late in its run because it was being nicely nurtured at ABC but it was only going to be a business if it was at the network that was in tandem with the studio.

Well, we’re unencumbered from those events. We don’t have, as the transaction closes, we won’t have the vertical integration where we have to give every tie-breaker (in selecting new programming) to ourselves. So we said, well what would it look like and how could you win if you give tiebreakers to others? We have a desired platform that is one of four (broadcast networks) in the country and by definition we have fewer hours so we have a finite amount of hours that people want access to.

So does that mean we could come to market and build partnerships that allow them access that allows us a better deal structure? And the answer is: Sure, because people want to be on this finite platform and, frankly, any agent or anyone who’s participating in a long running franchise on Fox has done very well as an investor. And the platform with the assets inside of it, because of their strategy to be more live and look live and all that gives us the ability to actually remain a platform of breadth when all this disintermediation has made very few platforms of breadth.

How do you sell creative partners on working for Fox? 

There are some strategic capabilities the network alone brings, but then the move to keep Gail (Berman) in house with SideCar – I was looking at talent, not just on-air talent, but the talent behind the camera that was in our universe, and Gail Berman was loosely tied to Fox through Jackal (Group). And I thought, oh my goodness, if I had the chance to keep Gail Berman in our house, and align the goals so it’s not a pod deal, it’s so much more than that.

We own 100% of (SideCar), and now I’ve created with relative simplicity, business structure-wise, the opportunity for a creator who wants her production abilities, because she’s a prolific producer. Now she can come in through the side door and she has access to our pipeline and that scarce platform.

By the way, for those people who like the development process through a larger network or studio – we still have that. So all of a sudden, overnight, I sort of created another door to the company through talent that we didn’t have. And those kind of bolt-ons are both strategic and so right for us.

And obviously, if you’ve just scaled up spending billions of dollars on assets, you probably wouldn’t look to do that, because it wouldn’t make a meaningful difference. But for us, it’s a content accelerator – and we’ll focus her on the network initiatives. And the good news is, we know better than we did 10 weeks ago what they are.

So if you develop something through SideCar that you want to bring to pilot or series, Fox will have the capability to produce shows on its own even after 20th Century Fox TV is no longer part of the company?

We’ll fund it and we’ll produce it and then we might say we’re going to be the production company, we’ll be set up for that. We could walk down the hall (to rent production space). And that is not to be diminished the value of the asset that Lachlan (Murdoch) retained with the studio lot.

What proportion of your programs do you think will be licensed from outside producers versus owned outright? 

It’s a flexible proportion. If we had a licensed project that we thought was a great story to tell, that we thought would complement the football audience – today, we could make that decision to license it and not feel bad about it.

Whereas if you had a vertical structure, where the infrastructure is based on making sure you buy enough of your own product to go, that’s a whole different Magilla. And you’ll see the tiebreakers go to the owned product. Proportionally, if you look at it as a continuum, you’ll see the shift toward investing vs. licensing, because it’s just the smart thing to do.

What types of shows do you not have on the air now that you would like to have? Where do you see opportunity?

I’ve found some of the questions about comedy and how we define our comedy brand, especially in the fall, really interesting. We do have fewer slots in the schedule in the fall.

To me, I think scarcity, in many ways, is a help, not a hindrance, because I wouldn’t want to have 22 hours to schedule this fall. So I think us figuring out our comedy schedule – because you know it’s going to be disrupted by (WWE) wrestling, is something I would say is a great opportunity. I’d love to develop another signature soap for Fox.

As someone who’s been a fan, and as someone’s who’s been studying it for the last quarter, they’ve always had that signature soap opera that feels very Fox. The matriarch that is unapologetic, or the family that is willing to tell you the things you never want to hear.