Peter Rice, Dana Walden Score Top Roles as Disney Sets Post-Fox Leadership

Dana Walden and Peter Rice  -  Children's Rights' 24th annual dinner - Getty-H 2018
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Following nearly a year of speculation, Disney has unveiled the first wave of its post-merger leadership structure. 

21st Century Fox president Peter Rice and Fox TV Group chairman Dana Walden are both moving over to Disney with senior roles and expanded purviews on the TV side. They will each assume control over a portfolio previously managed by Disney’s outgoing TV honcho, Ben Sherwood, though Rice’s collection of assets will be considerably greater post-merger. Sherwood will remain in his current role through the transition period until the deal closes.

"The strength of 21st Century Fox’s first-class management talent has always been a compelling part of this opportunity for us,” Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Co., said Monday in a statement. “Upon completion of the acquisition, this new structure positions these proven leaders to help drive maximum value from a greatly enhanced portfolio of incredible brands and businesses.”

In his new role as chairman of Walt Disney Television and co-chair of Disney Media Networks, Rice will oversee all of Disney’s TV efforts, save ESPN. That includes ABC, ABC Studios, ABC Owned Television Stations Group, Disney Channels Worldwide, Freeform, 20th Century Fox TV, FX Networks, FX Productions, Fox 21 TV Studios and National Geographic channels. The fast-rising Brit, who has prior film experience as well as TV chops, will now report directly to Iger. As part of ongoing chatter surrounding the deal, Rice's name has been frequently bandied about as a potential Iger successor down the road. Walden, FX chairman John Landgraf, National Geographic Partners chairman Gary E. Knell, Disney Channels Worldwide president and chief creative officer Gary Marsh and ABC News president James Goldston will report to Rice. 

"I love making television and have been fortunate to work with incredibly talented executives and storytellers," said Rice. "Disney is the world’s preeminent creative company, and I look forward to working for Bob, and with his exceptional leadership team, to build on that amazing legacy. I also want to thank Rupert, Lachlan and James Murdoch for the privilege of working on such a wide array of movies and television, both entertainment and sports. It has been a wonderful 30 years."

In the new setup, Walden — now serving as chairman of Disney TV Studios and ABC Entertainment, will report to Rice, as she did in her role at Fox. She will continue to oversee 20th Century Fox Television — the studio that she oversaw with longtime collaborator (and, for now, the Fox TV Group’s lone chairman) Gary Newman — as well as ABC Studios. The two studios are expected to remain as separate entities with their respective leadership teams, at least for the time being. Going forward, Walden is expected to split her time between the Fox lot in Century City, where 20th will remain, and Disney’s Burbank headquarters. Walden will also oversee Fox 21 TV Studios, ABC Entertainment, ABC Studios, Freeform and the ABC Owned Television Stations Group. Executives set to report to Walden include ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey, ABC Studios president Patrick Moran, 20th TV presidents Jonathan Davis and Howard Kurtzman, Fox 21 TV Studios president Bert Salke, Freeform president Tom Ascheim and ABC Owned Television Stations Group president Wendy McMahon.

Newman is in talks to remain atop the so-called "New Fox" through at least the recently launched 2018-19 broadcast season. 

As part of the transition, Walden will trade one broadcast network, Fox, for another, ABC. While Michael Thorn and his team will stay put at Fox, ABC's entertainment president, Channing Dungey, will now report to Walden — her network rival until now. Dungey is expected to stay in place, though some around town wonder how long that will last. Already, she's been approached for other high-profile gigs, including one, per sources, at Shonda Rhimes’ Netflix-based company. 

Walden will also gain oversight of Disney's younger-skewing basic cable network Freeform, with network president Ascheim now reporting to her. Sources say Walden has already begun to sign off on certain Freeform pilot decisions. This marks the first time that Walden, who began her career on the publicity side, will oversee a cable network. As a Hulu board member, she is expected to have a role there, too.

On the cable side, FX CEO John Landgraf is keeping his fiefdom intact, though he is expected to receive additional financial resources. The latter should help him and his team at FX, FXX and FX Productions better compete with deeper-pocketed rivals from HBO to Netflix. The highly respected executive could have added to his portfolio, per multiple sources, but is said to have wanted to maintain his role and his purview.

National Geographic Global Networks CEO Courteney Monroe, for her part, was not included in the restructuring announcement unveiled Monday. The exec, who passed on an offer to take over New Fox that would have required her to relocate from Washington to Los Angeles, is expected to remain at Nat Geo and move over to Disney once her deal closes. Like Landgraf, Monroe is expected to get additional resources to bolster Nat Geo's programming offerings.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in mid-September, Iger addressed the executive shake-up in broad terms. "We’re going to take the best people from both companies, and that's who's going to basically be on the playing field for us," he said. "Meaning, talent will prevail. … You look at FX, Nat Geo. Yeah, you’re buying libraries and brands, but you're also buying the people.”

Though executive movement was long rumored and widely expected, those inside both companies had been waiting for the kind of clarity that Monday's news offers. The moves come as many of the major media companies, along with the business at large, are experiencing tremendous upheaval. Just a week ago, for instance, NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt — at eight years, broadcast's longest-tenured network head — stepped down, with Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks replacing him as co-chairmen. That came 36 hours after news broke that Sherwood would be leaving ABC. Over at CBS, Leslie Moonves was ousted from his perch following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. 

As for Sherwood, he will depart Disney after the Fox deal officially closes. With its acquisition of Fox assets, Disney is inheriting a roster of executives that created some redundancies on the TV side. The $71.3 billion deal will bolster Disney’s TV assets at a time when library content is becoming increasingly valuable and as the company is poised to launch its own streaming service to compete with Netflix.

“I want to personally thank Ben Sherwood for his years of service at ABC and Disney. Ben has been a valued colleague, and I deeply appreciate his many contributions and insights, as well as his professionalism and cooperation in this transition,” Iger said Monday.