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The next round of Disney’s restructuring is a big one.
Dana Walden has consolidated Disney’s three TV studios into two, merging Bert Salke’s Touchstone (formerly Fox 21) into 20th Television. Salke, who had overseen the studio for the past decade, will step down from the post and has signed a what sources say is a four-year producing deal worth $20 million as he returns to his roots as a showrunner and EP. Producers who had deals with Touchstone will now be moved over to Burke’s group at 20th TV.
As part of the changes, ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke will move over and oversee the newly expanded 20th Television as president of the supersized studio. Salke’s team at Touchstone will be consolidated under Burke at 20th TV. Carolyn Cassidy, who previously served as president of 20th TV, will now serve as exec vp development at the studio. Salke’s No. 2 at Touchstone, Jane Francis, will serve as exec vp series at 20th. Both Cassidy and Francis will report to Burke.
20th TV’s animation and unscripted programming teams will be spun out into separate units as both continue to expand volume.
Hulu senior vp originals Craig Erwich has also been promoted as part of the changes and will now serve as president of Hulu originals and take over for Burke at the helm of ABC Entertainment. Development will be handled by Disney’s studios, with Erwich’s group selecting which projects to move ahead with and managing slates.
With the studio changes, Craig Hunegs will move from president of Disney Television Studios — the umbrella that previously oversaw 20th TV, Touchstone TV and ABC Signature — to a new role working directly with Walden as president of entertainment for Walt Disney Television. Walden, who announced the moves Tuesday in a memo to staff (read it below), was promoted to chairman of entertainment at Walt Disney TV as part of the Nov. 10 restructuring in Peter Rice’s general entertainment division.
Jonnie Davis, who moved over from 20th TV last year, will continue to serve as president of the recently rebranded ABC Signature, while Tara Duncan will continue to serve as Freeform president after taking over for Tom Ascheim earlier this year. Burke will continue to report to Walden. Davis, who previously reported to Hunegs, will also report to Walden. In his new role, Hunegs will work alongside Walden and lead a centralized business affairs, production, casting, and creative talent development and inclusion team, while also overseeing 20th Animation and a newly formed unscripted division. Hunegs joined Disney in 2019 from Warner Bros. TV Group, where he spent two decades.
Salke is the lone executive displaced Tuesday as part of the changes in Walden’s group; additional layoffs are expected, though it’s not yet clear who or when. The news comes as Disney continues to restructure and consolidate its workforce to better position the company for the streaming future while eliminating staff redundancies for cost-saving purposes. The changes are the latest in a wave of structural repositioning across Disney that started Oct. 12 when new CEO Bob Chapek shifted the company’s priority to streaming. As part of the effort, Chapek tapped former consumer products president Kareem Daniel to oversee a new Media and Entertainment Distribution Group. That gave greater content control to studio leaders, including Rice, while handing Daniel oversight of distribution, ad sales and such other business functions as budgets. The changes created what one top literary agent dubbed a “content czar and Supreme Court of buyers” at Disney.
“This has been an incredibly challenging but successful year,” Walden said Tuesday. “Our television studios produce many of the top-rated shows in the industry. ABC is now the No. 1 entertainment network and the Hulu Originals team launched their most successful slate yet of critically acclaimed, award-winning, high-performing shows. I am proud of our exceptional leadership team and all we have accomplished, but the media landscape is changing and this reorganization better positions us for the future. The changes we are announcing today are in service of three goals: rightsizing our organization, streamlining functions across our studios and original content teams, and strengthening our partnerships with the extraordinary creators who call Disney Television Studios their home.”
Tuesday’s changes marks a continued rise to the top for Burke, the former No. 2 at Freeform who replaced Channing Dungey at ABC in November 2018. The executive spent the first half of her career at NBC, where she developed hits including Friends, ER and the original Will & Grace before moving into producing. She joined Disney’s younger-skewing cabler Freeform in 2012 and developed network-defining hits including Grown-ish, The Bold Type and Good Trouble.
For his part, Salke oversaw development and production of Fox 21/Touchstone series including Homeland, Genius, Queen of the South, and, with FX Productions, Sons of Anarchy, Pose, The Politician and American Crime Story, among others. “We feel incredibly fortunate that Bert has chosen to set his production company up with Disney Television Studios,” Walden said. “He has impeccable taste and no one works harder or is more committed to creators, whether they are new voices or long-established hitmakers. Writers can feel his passion and dedication, and that creates an environment where they can do great work.”
The Touchstone label was revived in August of this year as Disney officially removed the “Fox” from all of the assets included in its $71.3 billion Fox acquisition. The change in August also saw ABC Studios and the cable- and streaming-focused studio ABC Signature folded into one unit, ABC Signature. All told, Disney’s TV studios have gone from four separate entities into two, 20th TV and ABC Signature.
Walden’s team is expected to be the last of the major TV-side restructurings at Disney. Earlier this month, Disney-owned ESPN unveiled its own restructuring of senior executive leadership, with exec vp content Connor Schell among those leaving. The sports outlet is expected to reduce its workforce by 500 staffers. As previously announced, Shannon Ryan will oversee centralized marketing and PR teams for Hulu, ABC and other linear networks.
The realignment and pending layoffs across the company come as Disney, like other entertainment titans, is under tremendous financial pressure as a result of the novel coronavirus. With Disneyland in Southern California remaining shuttered and most movie theaters pinched by the pandemic, Disney this month announced additional furloughs for theme park employees and executives. That unknown tally will join the 28,000 park employees who were laid off in September. Disney reported a $3.1 billion third-quarter loss this month, following a $4.7 billion hit during Q2.
Here’s Walden’s memo to staff:
In a few moments we will be announcing changes to the business units under my purview. This has been an extraordinarily difficult year, to say the least, and I am so grateful to you all for stepping up to meet challenge after challenge. Our industry has been altered forever, and we are reorganizing to position ourselves strongly for the future and create an even better experience for our creative partners.
The changes announced today follow the recent reorganization at The Walt Disney Company, which was designed to accelerate growth in its direct-to-consumer businesses. As part of that plan, the Company separated content creation from distribution and commercialization. Our role is to supply breakthrough original content to Disney’s best-in-class streaming platforms Disney+ and Hulu, linear networks and third-party platforms; and to choose the original content that will fuel the Hulu Originals, ABC Entertainment and Freeform programming slates.
I am very lucky to be working with a group of leaders who are both gifted executives, and caring and compassionate people. Throughout the planning for today’s announcement, we spent countless hours evaluating the best structure for our businesses and our teams. We believe that is what we have achieved. And, our new simplified structure will facilitate clarity of responsibilities and stronger partnerships with our talented colleagues inside Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution.
Here is how we are evolving our organization:
Disney Television Studios will be consolidated into two studio teams led by Karey Burke and Jonnie Davis.
Karey will move over from her role as President of ABC Entertainment and become the President of 20th Television, reporting to me. As part of this restructure, the Touchstone Television banner will sunset and its operations will be rolled into 20th Television. Working with Karey at the newly expanded studio, Carolyn Cassidy will serve as Executive Vice President, Development; and Jane Francis moves from Touchstone Television to become Executive Vice President, Series.
Jonnie will continue as President of ABC Signature, but will now report directly to me.
Bert Salke will transition from President of Touchstone Television to a new multi-year overall producing deal with Disney Television Studios.
Tara Duncan will continue as President of Freeform and will be responsible for building a roster of diverse creators to develop series across all platforms.
Craig Erwich will continue leading the Hulu Originals team and will additionally assume responsibilities previously held by Karey Burke at ABC Entertainment. He will now serve as President of Hulu Originals and ABC Entertainment.
Craig Hunegs will move from his role as President of Disney Television Studios to President of Entertainment for Walt Disney Television, working with me across all areas. He will lead newly centralized Business Affairs, Production, Casting and Creative Talent Development & Inclusion teams. He’ll also oversee 20th Animation and a newly formed production unit for Unscripted Programming.
And as previously announced, Shannon Ryan will serve as President, Content Marketing, Hulu and General Entertainment, managing the creative marketing, publicity, media planning, events, talent relations and awards strategy for all the programming created across our group.
The release below further details our new structure.
These are exceptional creative leaders who have strong relationships throughout our industry and have already accomplished so much. I am certain they will continue to foster an environment where creators, showrunners, producers, directors and talent can do their very best work, and I am confident that their leadership will inspire all of you to do the same.
I know there is discomfort with change, but I am optimistic about our future and am looking forward to working with you as we embark on this new chapter together.
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