As staffers at Disney's Burbank lot and Fox's Century City hub keep their heads down as the dark clouds of layoffs hang over both, Disney TV Studios and ABC Entertainment chairman Dana Walden is doing her best to rally the troops with a memo sent to staff Friday morning in which she encourages patience for the Mouse House's strategy to take shape and confesses to also feeling the anxiety that comes with such a level of change. (Read the full memo, below.) Additionally, newly tapped combined Disney TV Studios chief Craig Hunegs sent a memo to staff Friday afternoon in which he hoped for a "friction-less partnership" and vowed that each of Fox's and Disney's studios would "carve out unique identities with their own distinctive creative taste." (Read his memo, below.)
Days after Disney closed its $71.3 billion Fox deal, the former now controls Fox's film and TV studios — 20th Century Fox TV as well as Fox 21. As part of the pact, Disney now controls FX, National Geographic, Indian TV giant Star India and Fox's 30 percent stake in Hulu (for a controlling 60 percent share). That has created a sizable amount of overlap with Disney's ABC Studios, cable- and streaming-focused ABC Signature as well as departments including marketing, distribution, syndication and publicity.
What's more, the merged company recently appointed former Warner Bros.' Craig Hunegs to oversee the combined studio operations, adding yet another exec to a crowded studio field that already includes ABC Studios' Patrick Moran, 20th TV's Jonnie Davis and Howard Kurtzman and Fox 21's Bert Salke. (All of whom report to Hunegs, who answers to Walden. The latter came over to Disney alongside Fox's Peter Rice, to whom she reports.) It's unclear if any of the studio toppers will be impacted, despite the overlap, as many remain in the thick of broadcast's annual pilot season. Additionally, Disney will launch its Netflix rival direct-to-consumer platform, Disney+, in the fourth quarter and a deep roster of execs with key relationships with top talent could be beneficial.
Layoffs were expected to begin Friday on the TV side. Mark Kaner, president of 20th Century Fox TV Distribution, joined Fox's syndication topper Greg Meidel as top execs who were informed that they would not be making the move to Disney. Other layoffs are expected as the total number is expected to swell to as many as 4,000.
(This post will be updated as more information becomes available.)
Here's Walden's memo to staff:
Day three, and the energy and excitement inside our newly merged organization is palpable! I'm so happy to be starting this journey with all of you. To say I've been looking forward to this week would be an enormous understatement, and I want to start by thanking you for the warmth, thoughtfulness and goodwill many of you have already extended to your new colleagues.
Over the past few months, I have had the good fortune of getting to know some of you on the Disney side, and throughout my 26 years at Fox I've been lucky to work with many of you for decades. The combined companies represent a dream team of executives and staff, and we all share the same goal — to be the best by creating the best environment for our people and our extraordinary creative partners.
When you look across the Disney Television Studios, ABC Entertainment, the ABC Owned TV Stations and Freeform, many of us have already worked together in the past. Our companies have a long history of teaming up to do spectacular things together. Look no further than multiple Emmy and Golden Globe winner Modern Family for an example of the extraordinary work that resulted when we joined forces. That happened when we were completely separate companies — just think about how much we can achieve now that we are united. There is no greater bonding experience than shared success, and I know that going forward we will have much to celebrate together.
I am genuinely thrilled to be embarking on this new chapter in my career with a stellar leadership team — Karey [Burke, ABC Entertainment president], Craig [Hunegs, Disney Television Studios president], Tom [Ascheim, Freeform president] and Wendy [McMahon, ABC Owned TV Stations Group president]— who understand that a winning business starts with a winning culture. The five of us realize that bringing our businesses together will require strategy and patience. Please know that we are all here for you and that we too are experiencing both the exhilaration and anxiety that accompany change.
Throughout my own transition to becoming a Disney employee, I have been thoroughly impressed with The Walt Disney Company's Human Resources team. They are compassionate and highly skilled executives who are here to help us all through the integration. Each business unit has a dedicated HR business partner, with whom you can be connected through your supervisor. They've provided this five-minute video that highlights how you can think about and embrace change. I hope everyone will take the time to watch it.
Finally, I am almost overwhelmed by the excitement I feel for our future. We are now positioned to win, big time, and I am grateful to Bob and Peter for giving me this opportunity. I am especially proud to be working with all of you.
And here's Hunegs' memo:
For those of you I haven't met, I'm Craig Hunegs, President of Disney Television Studios. I feel so fortunate to join Disney, to work for Peter and Dana and to lead our exceptional TV studios.
I'm sure you agree, it's a truly unique time to create television and we enter it with great strength. Across our studios, we have an unmatched roster of executives and talent, the highest quality programs and an exciting lineup of development projects. Disney has networks and streaming services with an insatiable need for high quality, diverse programs. We have unprecedented opportunities for our creators to tell stories and touch audiences.
As we go forward, each of our studios — ABC Studios led by Patrick Moran, 20th Century Fox Television led by Jonnie Davis and Howard Kurtzman and Fox 21 led by Bert Salke — will continue to carve out unique identities with their own distinctive creative taste. I'm here to help bring it all together, to have us work seamlessly as a group. It's a time of rapid, fundamental change in television and I'll work with all of you to make sure we have what we need to grow and succeed. I'll also focus hard on making DTS the absolute best place to work for talent, for executives and for all our employees.
An important measure for us will be the compelling, breakout series we create for our sister platforms, ABC, Disney+, Freeform, FX, Hulu and NatGeo. Our relationship with them will figure hugely in our success, and across creative and business affairs we will aim for a true, friction-less partnership.
I feel incredibly lucky to do what we do. We touch and entertain audiences all over the world and together we can do it in an even more impactful way.
Over the coming weeks, I look forward to meeting and getting to know each and every one of you.