May 30, 2014 5:00am PT by Lacey Rose
Fox TV Shake-up: Who's Got an Inside Track to Replace Kevin Reilly (Analysis)
With the announcement on Thursday that Fox Broadcasting chairman Kevin Reilly would be stepping down, the industry parlor game of predicting who will replace him has begun.
The names at the center of speculation in the hours following Reilly's announcement that he will exit at the end of June are 20 Century Fox TV Studios chairman Dana Walden, FX Networks Group CEO John Landgraf, Fox Broadcasting COO Joe Earley, former Fox exec-turned-producer Gail Berman and Turner exec Michael Wright. And though the top execs at Fox parent 21st Century Fox are said to be keeping any plans that may be brewing close to the vest -- with Fox Networks Group chairman's Peter Rice staying mum about replacements during a meeting with his top lieutenants to share Reilly's news Thursday morning -- multiple insiders expect an announcement to be made swiftly. Fox declined to comment on the search.
Of the options, Walden arguably is the most obvious choice. Her 20th TV, run with Gary Newman, is a far more profitable business than the Fox broadcast network. But while she has both the respect and the track record to make her a worthy candidate, many caution that the studio is too valuable to 21st Century Fox to risk toying with its organizational structure. If she were to take on the network, she'd likely keep a hand in the studio, too, particularly as it pertains to dealings with the studio's top producers (Ryan Murphy, Howard Gordon) with whom she's extremely close.
The other parts of Walden's current studio position likely would have to take a back seat because it is next to impossible to actively run both a studio and a network on a day-to-day basis, particularly a network in Fox's challenged state. Whether Walden would want the gig's grueling lifestyle and its lack of job security is an open question. (The appeal, of course, is a higher profile and additional power.) It's also not clear whether top execs, including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch along with Chase Carey, have any interest in combining the network and studio under one executive as it once was during Sandy Grushow's tenure at Fox.
For his part, Landgraf seems a far less likely pick, as he is said to have little interest in returning to broadcast, where he spent time earlier in his career. He has been vocal about the creative freedoms of working in cable, which enjoys the dual revenue streams of subscription fees and advertising, just as he has been about the economic challenges of broadcast's antiquated model. What's more, he's been making lucrative programming and providing cachet for the parent company as a hands-on chief of its cable networks group, leading many to question why top brass would want to jeopardize that.
What's more, unlike Walden, who has spent her career focused on big broadcast series including animated juggernauts (The Simpsons), broad comedy hits (Modern Family) and big-budget dramas (24), Landgraf's sensibility has tended to skew narrower -- and thus more cable-appropriate. That said, both his strong reputation and his industry intelligence would make him a valuable asset as the network continues to navigate an increasingly challenged broadcast landscape, and for that reason there could be a scenario in which he's ordered to refocus his attention to Fox. If that were the case, it's hard to believe he wouldn't still keep a hand in cable, too, with Nick Grad and Eric Schrier more focused on the day-to-day duties at FX.
Earley's name has been bandied about, too, in large part because it would continue his remarkable trajectory at the company. Over the course of his two-decade career at Fox, he has risen from publicist to marketing chief to COO. But while the network's drama and comedy development duties were shifted from Reilly to Earley earlier this year, many argue he lacks the programming experience at this stage to make the move to broadcasting chairman. If that were to happen, and multiple insiders suggest it's highly unlikely, he would join a small but distinguished subset for top programming execs, including HBO chief Richard Plepler and CBS TV Studios president David Stapf, who got their starts on the communications side of the business.
Among the choices outside of the company, Berman's name is being floated more frequently than any other. The industry vet, whose stake at BermanBraun was recently bought out by former partner Lloyd Braun and whose kids now are grown, is said to be looking to get back into the action with a big industry job. Ironically, the Fox gig is one she had years earlier, which one source said could be comforting to top execs at the company. (Berman exited Fox in 2005 for a short-lived film job at Paramount.)
Along with network experience, Berman has long-running industry relationships and did a recent crash course in the digital revolution through her dealings at BermanBraun. Still, insiders suggest the choice could seem uninspired, with some questioning whether bringing back a former Fox executive is the kind of forward-looking move the company should be considering. Berman, a forceful exec who doesn't suffer fools, is currently on location in Israel, where she's producing the forthcoming USA series Dig.
Far less likely, albeit not out of the question, is Michael Wright, the TNT/TBS chief. Wright's programming was recently knocked by Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes for being too broad for cable, which, ironically, could work to Wright's advantage at a place like Fox, where there's no such thing as "too broad." In fact, Reilly's programming choices, particularly his comedy brand, were often criticized by top Fox brass for being too narrow. Prior to Turner, Wright ran movies and miniseries at CBS, and many believe he'd be eager to make the jump back to broadcast if a network opportunity was made available to him.
To be sure, rumblings about Wright stem in part from the questions surrounding the future of Turner Entertainment, where former top exec Steve Koonin recently departed for a career in sports. Wright is believed to be among the names being considered for Koonin's former gig, but so are others, including Reilly. Several note that Reilly could be just the kind of "heavy hitter" Turner execs are believed to be looking for as they plan to invest considerably in upgrading its programming in a strategic bid to compete with higher-end competitors FX and AMC. There was heavy chatter Thursday that the timing of Reilly's announcement aligned so perfectly with Turner's needs that a job there must already be in play. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter Thursday morning, Reilly remained coy about his next steps, saying little more than that broadcast likely would not be something he considers.