5 Urgent Questions for New Fox Chiefs Dana Walden and Gary Newman (Analysis)
Who gains and loses power? Will the network buy from rival studios? The Fox TV Studio bosses take over the struggling network — and all the pressures and politics that come with it.
This story first appeared in the July 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The July 14 decision to give 20th Century Fox TV Studio bosses Gary Newman, 60, and Dana Walden, 49, additional oversight over the Fox network was widely expected, but what it will mean for those on and off the Fox lot still is unclear. Here are five questions for the new CEOs and chairmen of the Fox Television Group.
1) WHAT'S THE NEW EXECUTIVE HIERARCHY?
Multiple sources suggest too much was made of Walden's reluctance to report to Fox Networks Group chairman and CEO Peter Rice, having reported to News Corp. COO Chase Carey. Instead, they say she recognizes that Rice has Rupert Murdoch's ear, with one exec noting, "He might as well have the last name Murdoch." As for those under Walden and Newman, the partners insist they have no immediate personnel changes planned -- not that that's stopped the rumor mill at the network and the studio. And though the pair has denied any near-term plans to bring in an entertainment chief -- using the opportunity to praise Fox COO Joe Earley -- speculation swirls around NBC's Jennifer Salke. Insiders suspect Walden will look to lure her former No. 2 at 20th and close friend back once Salke's NBC contract concludes in 2015. Given her tight relationship with boss Bob Greenblatt and the tough road she already has paved at NBC, it's not clear Salke would -- or should -- return.
2) WILL FOX BUY SHOWS ONLY FROM 20TH NOW?
Fox's "open door" policy toward outside studios could soon become more of an "open ajar" one, though what that will mean for producers remains murky. Walden and Newman acknowledge that the marketplace demands they be more focused on vertical integration. "As producers, we've been in the landscape where all the other networks are under the same management structure as their own studios. … Their mandate is to create a strong and stable schedule, but the big win is to own as many of their hits as possible," notes Walden. Although she insists Fox will continue to buy outside product such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Universal) and fall's Gotham (Warner Bros.), she says that in cases of ties or bubble shows, the edge will lie with the series they own. This news can't sit well with independent studios such as Warner Bros. and Sony. But there are risks in favoring owned shows over hit shows. "The worst thing that can possibly happen is that they line the schedule with shows from the studio and they wind up dealing with a lot of failure," notes Sandy Grushow, the last executive to oversee both the Fox network and studio a decade ago. "There's nothing more expensive than producing your own failure." On the other hand, as one exec notes, rival studios stand to benefit as sellers because 20th TV likely won't be as focused on broadcast networks other than Fox. As for producers with deals at 20th, the questions range from, "Who am I pitching to now?" to "What happens if the studio likes an idea but Fox passes? Does Dana still pick up the phone and recommend it to Jennifer? Or CBS' Nina Tassler?"
3) HOW WILL THEY REBUILD?
A turnaround at Fox, which failed to launch a hit last season, won't be as easy as it was at NBC, which had building blocks like The Voice. Although figuring out Fox's brand and genre mix will take time, Walden and Newman say they are committed to maintaining a foothold in the unfamiliar territory of reality. Whether their inexperience -- and, until now, disinterest -- bodes well for recent unscripted hire Simon Andreae is a question being debated in reality circles. One reality exec suggests his big fall bet Utopia will take on greater significance. Others are wondering what the shake-up means for American Idol.
4) WHAT'S THE SCRIPTED DEVELOPMENT PLAN?
Walden and Newman insist their rebuilding strategy includes wooing back top producers who have shunned broadcast for the creative freedom and series commitments on cable and digital. And luring them will hinge in part on a more pleasurable development process, which is something that their predecessor Kevin Reilly was trying to mend with his much-debated abandonment of pilot season. Whether Newman and Walden will carry his torch will be among the first questions posed by the community. After all, the pair just experienced the downside of bypassing a pilot on Hieroglyph, one of Reilly's early straight-to-series experiments, which Walden and Rice scrapped June 30.
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5) HOW WILL THEY DO IT ALL?
Time management remains a key question. Unlike Greenblatt and ABC's Paul Lee, who also oversee studio divisions, Walden and Newman have transformed 20th TV and its cable offshoots Fox 21 and Fox TV Studios into something considerably more powerful, with 40 series on the air. The success has been predicated on their heavy involvement. Walden, for instance, is close to many of the studio's top showrunners, leaving many to wonder whether she still will be available for Ryan Murphy or Howard Gordon.
Newman says he and Walden will maintain their "divide and conquer" strategy and will look to underlings, including Jonnie Davis and Howard Kurtzman, who were promoted earlier this year, to step up. "They make each other better," says Gordon, citing their "mutual trust that allows them to take the creative risks." Adds Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan: "Fox is lucky to have them leading the charge to find a big hit show for Wednesdays at 9 p.m. Wait … uh-oh."