“Let’s note the elephant in our room — or, in our case, the mouse.”
Those were the opening remarks of Gary Newman, Fox TV Group chairman and CEO, taking the stage Thursday at the 2018 TCA winter press tour in front of a photoshopped image of himself and longtime counterpart Dana Walden flanking Mickey Mouse. Soon to be joined by Walden, the studio and network topper was well aware that everyone in the room was salivating for any morsel of information he could offer about the future of the Fox Broadcasting Company now that the Walt Disney Company had bought up the rest of their parent company’s entertainment properties — fundamentally orphaning the Big Four network.
Speaking publicly for the first time since December’s $52.4 billion deal, one that still has several obstacles to traverse before it is finalized, Newman acknowledged that the coming 12 to 18 months would be filled with speculation. “We are not going to let that distract us,” he said. “We will remained focused on managing the business of Fox.”
The phrases “New Fox,” “12 to 18 months” and “business as usual” were oft-repeated throughout Newman’s introductory spiel and the ensuing Q&A, which also featured new entertainment president Michael Thorn.
So what is New Fox? “This will be a very robust and nimble company that will continue the tradition of disruption that has always been core to the Fox brand,” said Newman, careful to clarify that he and Walden don’t yet know where they will be at the conclusion of the merger. “I do not mean to give any hints as to what the future might be. We don’t really know. We remain committed to the network and studio. Whether we ultimately end up at Disney, stay at Fox or ultimately move on to something else, we remain very committed to Fox right now.”
“When I’ve made my decision [about the future], my strategy is to tell my children, my mother, my husband and then my father — who will then tell everyone he knows,” said Walden, who padded her half-hour with a few jokes and dry responses. “Maybe some of your parents know him.”
Newman and Walden switched hats throughout the panel, speaking in both their current capacities as network and studio chiefs. For the studio, where they both started, they appeared most confident of limited changes.
“There’s no change of ownership terms in those deals,” said Newman, referring to 20th Century Fox TV’s impressive roster of talent that includes the likes of Ryan Murphy and Seth MacFarlane. “I would be lying if I said there wasn’t anxiety [among them]. That week the deal was announced, all of us talked to our producers.”
He added, “They’re not acquiring Fox to turn it into some sort of PG company — or, as I think Bob [Iger] has said, to Disney-fy it.”
Walden attempted to guide several confused reporters, assuring them that the deal does not mean Fox shows are moving to ABC. She also offered confidence that New Fox would not be a network that turns its back on entertainment programming, whether she and Newman are there or not.
“The network will continue to do entertainment programming,” said Walden. “Rupert [Murdoch] sees it as enormous opportunity for the broadcast network. We’ve been on the inside of a vertically integrated company. That’s always been advantageous at our network. That leaves independents as outsiders; they never have had a leg up getting onto a broadcast network.”
She also noted that vertical integration isn’t going away entirely. Without a sister studio in 20th TV, New Fox will forge ownership stakes on its own: “I’m sure anyone who is in business with New Fox will have to negotiate some ownership split to get it on there.”
The first season without 20th, Newman added after the panel, likely would not look different from the one before. Changes will be more gradual. And while the long-term future means fewer 20th shows, that doesn’t necessarily mean a move or end for legacy cartoons The Simpsons and Family Guy. Newman said he anticipated New Fox retaining some loss leaders.
In the meantime, Fox’s development, pilots and new series pickups — yes, those are still happening — will continue to skew 20th. “This development season, we’re reading scripts, ordering a similar number of pilots as the last few years, and setting the schedule in May,” said Newman. “We’ll market and support our shows. We won’t worry about what happens down the road when this deal happens.”
The fact that the when is still technically an if was rarely addressed.
“We have to operate as if this merger won’t go through to ensure this company is as strong as possible,” said Newman. “Our expectation is that it will go through.”