Joe Earley Looks to be "Deeply Involved With Creative" After Fox Exit
"You don't leave an opportunity like the one I currently have to go into something that doesn't completely fulfill you."
The Thursday announcement that Joe Earley is soon departing his role as COO of the Fox TV Group, the latest he's held in a 21-year career at the broadcast network, caught many off guard. But Earley has been planning his exit since early 2015.
"It's nice to have it finally out in the open and not be trying to carry it around and plan for the future at the same time," the veteran exec told The Hollywood Reporter just a few hours after the news broke. The former marketing chief, who first started his Fox career in publicity, confirmed that he's plotting a shift from operational to creative — openly planning the transition with his Fox TV Group chairmen and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman.
Earley, who expressed his regrets over the many emails he's yet to respond to on Thursday, also discussed what that transition has entailed, weighing his options and what's changed the most during his two decades at Fox. "I'm trying to stay away from the emotionality of the day as I see my colleagues in the hall and just focus on how I can finally start to begin the new chapter — as hackneyed as that sounds," he said. "It's a good day."
Has this been in the works for a while?
Since the spring, Dana and Gary and had been talking about it — and then Peter Rice, once we had FTG up and fully running. I had been learning so much working in the studio. It was an incredible opportunity that Dana and Gary gave me, and I was loving it. But as I just started to look ahead, as I often do, I was seeing that the more successful I was going to be in that role, the further it was going to take me into a more operational position as opposed to the creative. Then, when I had a CMO [recent hire Angela Courtin], that it was another piece of creative fulfillment I'd be distancing myself from.
How did Gary and Dana respond to your decision?
We have a relationship that precedes me working with them, when they were at the studio and I was at the network, they thankfully and graciously and looked at me more like a person and a colleague than an employee. They understood what my longterm concern was going to be. And they had fully disclosed what the job was going to be, and I was excited because I was going to be able to learn so much, but I got into the business to be working with the creative directly. And all of the success and opportunity was moving me further from that. They said, "Let's figure this out together to maximize success for you and for the network." That's how we spent the last few months, getting everything teed up, so we'd be ready for a really smooth transition the day the announcement was made.
What does the next chapter look like for you?
My last day is in December. I've kept myself open to a wide range of possibilities, as long as it's directly impacting creative. You don't leave an opportunity like the one I currently have to go into something that doesn't completely fulfill you. That's really my number one requirement, that I be deeply involved with the creative side. What form that takes, I'm really open.
Have you been looking?
We did agree that I didn't start talks with anyone before the announcement. This had to be done right for the staff here, and the information had to be shared in the appropriate succession. I didn't want there to be any leaks, so I haven't begun talks with anyone.
Have you had time to answer your phone since the news broke?
It's been a crazy few hours. I'm very behind on email right now, and anyone who's worked with me will tell you I stay on top of that. I'm a little stressed about not getting back to any people's calls or emails right now, but it's good because it's keeping me in a nice detached place. It's a big relief to be able to openly discuss it with everyone at the company. It's time to complete the transition and discuss timing with everyone.
Is there anyone out there who's career or choices you're sort of looking to or emulating at this point?
The names I would say, I have no right in saying them [laughs]. I don't want people to think I think that highly of myself, but I have had the great privilege of working with the top producers in the business when I was overseeing marketing: J.J. Abrams, Ryan Murphy, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Brian Grazer, Danny Strong, Lee Daniels, Ilene Chaiken, Hart Hanson... now I feel badly about names I'm not saying. The biggest joys I've had during my career is working with those creatives. It's why I know it's what I want to do.
What are you most proud of from your time at Fox?
I've had many opportunities to be really proud of the work I've done with the team here — which ultimately stems from being proud of the team. I've always been especially excited when we charted new ground — either launching something unique, like Glee, which shouldn't have been the big broad hit it was, or making the first episode of New Girl available for preview before anyone was doing that. I was always proud of the innovation, because I think that's part of Fox's DNA. I was excited, when I took over marketing, to say, "Let's get back to who we are. Let's be a little outrageous."
Obviously your job evolved a lot over your time at the network, but what's changed most about the landscape?
Most people would say the same thing. What's changed the most is viewers' decision to watch what they want, when they want. The fact that measurement hasn't kept up with that has made monetization a bigger challenge. And as the digital frontier exploded, if you happened to work in marketing and publicity all of sudden you had infinite possibilities of how to reach your viewer. That's either a challenge or an opportunity. I happen to think that Fox is a very forward-thinking company and has done very well becoming a cross-platform network. And along those lines, the consumer has become super savvy during that time. They know marketing and they understand what publicity is now. You have to be really creative in terms of how you relate to them and how you get your message across. And at the end of the day, good creative is the most important thing. I've seen it proven time and time again.