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Dana Walden and Gary Newman are poised to add network chief to their collective résumés.
The move, which is expected to be made as early as this week, would come more than a month after Fox Broadcasting Chairman Kevin Reilly announced he’d be exiting a position he had held for seven years. Walden, who was widely suspected to get the gig in the days following Reilly’s news, and her fellow 20th Century Fox TV chairman and CEO bring with them nearly 50 years of combined experience at the studio, during which time they have been intimately involved in such hits as The X-Files, Ally McBeal, 24, Family Guy and Glee. Fox declined to comment.
The delay speaks to the challenges of putting together a deal of this size and scope, with multiple sources suggesting Walden was seeking such things as ultimate creative control. It’s not clear if she and Newman will be granted that, or if Fox Networks chief Peter Rice will maintain that ability to weigh in. (It’s also not clear what the remainder of the reporting structure will look like, though several sources suggest Jonnie Davis will gain more control at the studio.) The other name that gained early traction and heavy interest from News Corp. brass following Reilly’s announcement was Gail Berman, who had run the network years earlier. When a deal didn’t come together for Berman, she was granted a rich pact for her newly created production company, The Jackal Group, which will develop and produce programming for all of the Fox Network Group’s channels.
As heads of the studio, a job Walden and Newman shared for some 15 years, they’ve transformed 20th TV from an also-ran into a destination known for big swings, artistic risks and a stable of A-list creators such as Ryan Murphy, Howard Gordon and Steve Levitan. In that tenure, they have championed a wide range of shows, some that have proved Emmy darlings (Homeland) and others ratings behemoths (Modern Family). Though early speculation had centered only on Walden, multiple sources said Walden insisted that Newman join her. The partners often refer to each other as the other’s work wife or work husband and having control over both a network and a studio could be that much more manageable with two people in the job.
Given their track record, some wondered whether 21st Century Fox brass would be willing to let the pair take its eye off of 20th TV, which is a far more lucrative asset than the network. And it wasn’t entirely clear the gig would be appealing to Walden and Newman either. Running a broadcast network would require a sizable lifestyle shift, headaches about fractured viewership and antiquated business models that ultimately drove Reilly out — not to mention, the kind of job insecurity with which both executives are unfamiliar. At the same time, the position offers a higher public profile, that much more power and an opportunity to turn around an ailing network that is likely alluring to execs with Walden’s and Newman’s ambition.
Their work will be cut out for them at Fox, which has suffered dramatic losses fueled by the sinking ship that is American Idol. The network rounded out the season flat in the key 18-49 demographic despite airing the Super Bowl — and again lost the demo crown that Fox had handily won for nearly a decade. Outside of genre play Sleepy Hollow, it failed to add any new bona fide hits this past year, relying instead on critically beloved niche comedies (The Mindy Project, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), shrinking dramas (Glee, The Following) and that aging reality franchise. To be sure, not having a network chief in place as Fox readies its next batch of series hopefuls to launch this fall was hardly ideal.
What all of this will mean for Reilly’s initiative to move away from pilot season and rethink the broadcast model remains to be seen. On the day he announced his resignation, Reilly told The Hollywood Reporter that he hoped that his successor would remain committed to a plan that he believed would keep broadcast relevant. “I hope it’s the beginning of change and not the end of it, even though I’m going to let somebody else push that boulder up the hill,” he said, adding with laughter: “I was feeling a little bit like Sisyphus.” Weeks later, Walden and Rice collectively decided to pull one of his straight-to-series bets, Hieroglpyh, with insiders suggesting the period drama’s pilot episode came in a “costly” creative “mess.” What does seem likely to happen in the new setup is for 20th TV to become much more focused on selling to its sister network.
Walden, a Los Angeles native, got her start in PR as an assistant to Larry Goldman, a partner in the firm Bender, Goldman & Helper. After half a decade at the firm, where she rose to vice president, she took a gig handling marketing and communications for Arsenio Hall. It was there that she met Lucy Salhany, who would later recruit her to 20th Century Fox Television, where she would spend years handling PR for the studio. Within some two years, the now married mother of two made the move to the creative side and has since been particularly well known for her strong creative relationships as well as her admirable programming instincts.
For his part, Newman, also Los Angeles bred, came up by way of business affairs. He joined 20th TV in 1990 in that capacity, and rose swiftly to become the top ranking business officer at the studio. Prior to his 20th tenure, the Yale alum worked in the legal department of Columbia Pictures Television and then spent six years in business affairs at NBC. There had been speculation that Newman, who owns a vineyard with his high-powered attorney wife, Jeanne, had planned to retire at the conclusion of his current contract. Among Newman’s strengths: creative dealmaking, as evidenced by his move to revive Seth MacFarlane‘s Family Guy to huge results years earlier.
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