David Madden Exits as Fox Entertainment Chief, Replaced by Michael Thorn

15 BIZ EXECUTIVE SUITE David Madden without bug
Kevin Scanlon

Sources say Madden is negotiating to take the top job at AMC.

Three years into the job, Fox entertainment president David Madden is stepping down, and will be replaced by 20th Century Fox TV veteran Michael Thorn.

The move marks the first high-level executive shakeup of Fox Television Group chairmen Gary Newman and Dana Walden’s tenure, though insiders say it was ultimately Madden's move. Per multiple sources, he is expected to announce soon that he will be taking the top job at AMC, which has been left vacant since Joel Stillerman's departure. In that role, Madden will oversee programming at AMC and Sundance, and will play a key role at the studio, given his past experience running Fox TV Studios.

Back at Fox, Thorn will assume all responsibility for scripted programming and development as well as oversee casting at the network. He will report to Walden and Newman, and will transition from his role as executive vp development at the studio at the end of next month. Per the company press release, the pair intend to replace him at the studio, though it's not clear whether that replacement will come from within. He brings with him strong talent relationships and many years of experience working with broadcast fare, including recent breakouts This Is Us and Empire.

“We’ve worked with Michael for the past decade, and in terms of creative chops and leadership skills, he’s one of the best,” Newman and Walden noted Wednesday in a joint statement, adding: “He’s distinguished himself in our organization and in the creative community as an incredible executive who cares deeply about the work and our creative partners. As someone who’s worked at the studio, a broadcast network and spent time as a producer, Michael’s had the best possible training for this position. We’re elated he’ll be stepping into this expanded role.”

The game of musical chairs comes as Newman and Walden have been under increased pressure from those with the last name Murdoch to secure some fresh hits for the network. After all, Fox's No. 2 status for the broadcast season is based largely on the merits of the Super Bowl and the World Series, as opposed to a high-performing slate of originals. The pair clearly have high hopes for Thorn, who found success in a role formerly held by Jennifer Salke, now entertainment president at NBC.

For his part, Madden had been brought over from Fox TV Studios to try his hand at the job shortly after Newman and Walden got the keys to the network in summer 2014. A Harvard-educated former film exec, he had spent the decade prior working on such cable fare as The Americans and The Killing. The quantity, pace and tone that broadcast required were each new, but Madden and his bosses almost immediately struck gold with the January 2015 launch of Empire, which shattered records and propped up the rest of the schedule — at least temporarily.

Now heading into its fourth season, Fox's Empire has lost a sizable chunk of its viewership (roughly 40 percent this season) and much of the zeitgeist that accompanied it. Though both Lethal Weapon and The Mick are worthy of praise, the network’s other efforts have failed to draw numbers, and even a coveted post-Super Bowl premiere slot couldn’t make a viable freshman out of 24 reboot Legacy. That Fox had passed on Dan Fogelman’s This Is Us, which became a runway hit for rival NBC, and ultimately lost one-time juggernaut American Idol to ABC has not helped matters internally.

By spring, the rumor mill had kicked into overdrive: Change was likely, and Madden, given the position, seemed likely to take the fall. The gig had become grueling, as any top network position today is, and his own purview had been minimized when, months earlier, he was stripped of his unscripted responsibilities. (In February, Walden and Newman tapped veteran reality showrunner Rob Wade as president of alternative, and ordered that he report directly to them.) Ultimately, that ax never fell, and Madden will move into a role at AMC — where he has a relationship with Charlie Collier, with whom he worked on The Killing — that returns him to prestige fare.

“This brings to a close an incredible 17-year run working with our friend and colleague, David," Walden and Newman added in their statement. "He’s a gifted executive who brings passion, intelligence and a tremendous amount of experience to all he does. We know he’ll be successful in the next stage of his career and we wish him all the best."