Trio replaces Chernin at News Corp.

Peter Liguori out as part of executive restructuring

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch has shaken up the top executive structure of the company's L.A.-based operations in a dramatic way.

Squashing speculation about who might be brought in to replace exiting president and COO Peter Chernin, Murdoch on Thursday elevated three division heads: Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, co-chairmen of Fox Filmed Entertainment, will add the company's TV production businesses to their portfolio overseeing film, and Tony Vinciquerra, who heads the company's cable networks as Fox Networks Group chairman, will now oversee all of Fox's TV networks.

All three will report to Murdoch.

The News Corp. mogul threw a curveball into the mix by turning to Peter Rice, who leads the successful Fox Searchlight indie film unit but has no TV experience, to replace Peter Liguori, who is stepping down as chairman of entertainment at the Fox Broadcasting network.

The post-Chernin executive shakeup will affect News Corp.'s TV division much more than its film operations. Coming out of the Fox network, Chernin had kept close ties with the TV divisions, handpicking most of their top executives, with whom he has had long-standing relationships.

Rice -- who has enjoyed a great run as head of the indie film unit, capped off by "Slumdog Millionaire's" Oscar and boxoffice triumphs -- called together Searchlight employees Thursday to discuss his move into TV.

A Searchlight exec said Rice's move appears to be an attempt to flesh out his corporate skills set with TV-side management experience.

"Peter has the vision, creativity and determination to grow and remodel our television network, and I'm delighted he has accepted this new challenge," Murdoch said in a memo to News Corp. employees.

Summing up the overall restructuring, Murdoch added, "I have been deeply engaged with senior management to develop a renewed model on which to further grow and transform our business."

In their new roles, Gianopulos and Rothman, who oversee creative efforts at News Corp.'s film production operations, will do the same on the TV side. They also will be in charge of labor and guild relations, taking over Chernin's involvement in major negotiations with the unions.

20th Century Fox TV chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman, who reported to Chernin, now report to Gianopulos and Rothman, reverting to a reporting structure from years ago when Chernin oversaw Fox Filmed Entertainment. 20th TV is expected to keep its autonomy under Gianopulos and Rothman, neither of whom has TV experience.

Another Chernin direct report, Fox TV Studios president Emiliano Calemzuk, will report to Walden and Newman. FtvS, which specializes in cable series and international co-productions, will remain an independent entity and keep its brand.

"This new creative structure will enable us immediately to operate more efficiently," Murdoch said. "We will remove unnecessary barriers that have existed between our businesses, thereby better facilitating the sharing of ideas and resources."

It also came down to sticking to the traditional studio pecking order. With 20 direct reports worldwide already, Murdoch was to take on an additional 20 who had reported to Chernin.

"That was not manageable, and it would've been very unlikely for the television studio to oversee the film studio, so there weren't a lot of options," a News Corp. insider said.

On the TV networks side, Vinciquerra -- who has overseen News Corp.'s cable networks and the business aspects of the Fox network -- will be in charge of News Corp. TV distribution, adding responsibility for Fox programming and Fox International Channels, which reported to Chernin. While not actively involved on the creative side, Vinciquerra regularly has taken part in the selection of Fox's new series and the assembling of the network's schedule.

It's a big promotion for Vinciquerra, widely described as a low-key but quietly effective executive whose office is strategically situated between Murdoch's and Chernin's and who has routinely handled the speed bumps between the two.

As for who will inherit Chernin's office when he leaves in June, one longtime News Corp. watcher said, "Vinciquerra is simply not the type to knock down a wall, but calculated jockeying by others for better positioning, on various floors of the building, is already under way."

Rice, moving over from Searchlight, will report to Vinciquerra. He will assume Liguori's responsibilities overseeing Fox's multiplatform programming, marketing and promotional efforts. Fox's entertainment president Kevin Reilly will report to Rice.

The entertainment chairman position was created in 2007 when Reilly became available after being ousted at NBC. To make room for both Reilly and Liguori, who previously worked together at FX, Liguori was named chairman, but many believed that that post would eventually go away. So, bringing a rising-star News Corp. programming executive like Rice into that job was a shock.

Some believe that eventually, the entertainment chairman and president jobs would be merged and Rice, lacking TV experience, might be getting groomed for it by being paired with Reilly, a seasoned TV exec.

Others believe that, if they develop chemistry, Rice and Reilly, both highly regarded for their creative skills, can work well together, especially in the short run.

Still, adding another strong creative exec in Rice creates another layer in an already multitiered development structure at Fox, where the heads of the drama departments report to executive vp Matt Cherniss, who reports to Reilly, who reports to Rice. And the way Liguori, a nine-year News Corp. veteran, was disposed of, had executives buzzing.

"It shows you News Corp. is not a touchy-feely company," one studio head said.

With Rice's departure, Fox Searchlight will be run by COOs Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula, who report to Gianopulos and Rothman. Claudia Lewis continues as president of production.

While Rice has been the public face of Searchlight, the unit in its most recent incarnation essentially has run under a trio of execs: Rice, marketing guru Utley and distribution savant Gilula. Thus, the departure of Rice is unlikely to cause serious ripples in the company's day-to-day operations, though few execs are believed to have had the ear of big Fox and News Corp. execs the way Rice did.

Rice joined Searchlight in early 2000 as president of production after rising through the ranks during his previous six years at Fox. While he's known first as a business-minded exec, he also has earned a reputation as a filmmaker-friendly personality who cultivated relationships with, and oversaw movies of, such filmmakers as Danny Boyle and Alex Proyas earlier in their careers -- skills that could be useful as he begins anew in the television world.

Rice's run at Searchlight is regarded as one of the strongest by any exec in the specialty world, with the company releasing both original productions and acquisitions to significant profits. "Slumdog," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Juno" and "Napoleon Dynamite" are among its recent successes, with only the occasional pricey misses ("Joshua," "The Darjeeling Limited") along the way.

Coming off a busy awards season in which it also fielded "The Wrestler," Searchlight's 2009 slate includes such major releases as Jared and Jerusha Hess' "Gentlemen Broncos," Marc Webb's "500 Days of Summer" and Mira Nair's "Amelia."

Rice also oversaw Fox Atomic, the youth/genre label he founded. Atomic, where Deborah Liebling serves as president of production, will now report directly to Rothman and Gianopulos. Atomic's latest film, "Miss March," opens wide today.

In other areas, Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network and chairman of the Fox Television Stations and Twentieth Television, and Peter Levinsohn, president of Fox Interactive Media, will continue to report directly to Murdoch.

Georg Szalai and Steve Zeitchik in New York and Carl DiOrio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.