Six months into their tenures as chairwoman and chairman of the Fox TV Group, Walden and Newman appeared on the Television Critics Association winter press tour stage with a mix of humor and candor reminiscent of their predecessor, Kevin Reilly. The pair wasted no time making announcements, which included renewals for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Gotham and Empire, before acknowledging the challenging position that they’ve found themselves in.
“The question we are asked most often is ‘Why on earth would you take this job at this point in broadcast history?’ Or as Tim Goodman put it, ‘Welcome to the beginning of the end. At least you have the studio to go back to when it all goes to hell,’ ” Walden said to big laughs in the Pasadena ballroom, before reiterating her desire to have control over their series’ programming, scheduling, marketing and platforming in ways that they never did as studio chiefs. She added: “Notwithstanding the challenges that have been outlined, we’re very happy to have the opportunity to meaningfully control our own destiny.”
While she and Newman used their first few minutes to hammer on the network’s recent successes, showering the bulk of their praise on January juggernaut Empire (a holdover from the Reilly era, which was born out of their studio), they didn’t shy away from Fox’s Nielsen woes. “We are well aware we’re the fourth place network and our ratings are challenged,” noted Newman, who saw no reason to tick off the network’s fall misfires: Utopia, Red Band Society, Mulaney and Gracepoint. “We know it’s going to be an uphill battle to turn this network around, and there’s only one way to do it: Put your head down, do the hard work, get in business with the best talent, support their visions, focus on one time period at a time, and slowly, with a little bit of luck, our team will be able to turn this network around.”
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In addition to teasing potential reboots of 24, The X Files and perhaps even Prison Break, here’s how Newman and Walden spent the remainder of their 45 minutes before the press.
Fox’s New Reality
Just 24 hours earlier, Walden and Newman’s network had announced a significant shake-up in its reality division, replacing alternative chief Simon Andreae with Electus‘ Corie Henson. The move, which had been widely speculated, followed fall’s hugely expensive swing-and-miss, Utopia, which got Fox off to a particularly rough start in Sept. Of the latter, Newman praised the ambition, noting that he and Walden had long encouraged their executives to take “big bold swings” and “not be afraid of failure.” Of the series’ quick demise, Newman faulted the show’s lack of “urgency.” As for what’s next from the Fox reality brand, Walden suggested MasterChef Jr. and American Idol were both tonally aligned with the aspirational direction to expect. Though they weren’t ready to make any kind of announcement, they confirmed a THR report that they’ve met with Simon Cowell, with Newman noting that the former Idol judge is “a tremendous talent magnet,” and he and Walden would “love to be in business with him.”
You’ve Got a Terrence Howard Problem
It was Walden who fielded a pair of tough questions about Howard’s controversial past, which includes multiple accusations of domestic violence. Rather than grow frustrated with the line of questions as NBC’s Bob Greenblatt did a day earlier when asked about Bill Cosby, Walden said Howard had been “a great partner” to both the network and studio. In truth, it was Empire producers Lee Daniels, Danny Strong and Brian Grazer who were eager to cast Howard, she acknowledged, but she and Newman have been impressed by the actor, who also stars in Fox’s summer miniseries Wayward Pines. With regard to his past, Walden stressed that she and Newman weren’t aware of the controversy until December, and by that point they had already been in business with him for a year or so and had seen no signs of trouble.
Bones and Sleepy Hollow: Will They Live On?
The new chiefs were hit with a flurry of questions about the future of many of their series. Bones was among the first, and they said they were very hopeful that they’d be able to announce another season in the near future. The holdup involves stars Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz, who are renegotiating their contracts. Walden wasn’t quite as magnanimous about Sleepy Hollow, noting that the 20th TV drama had grown too serialized this season and was in the midst of being calibrated. Though she intends to give the show more time before having to make a decision, Walden stated: “I’m hopeful it’ll come back.” Post panel, Walden told a gaggle of reporters that she was “hopeful” that New Girl and The Mindy Project would return too.
The Red Band Society “Disappointment”
Newman joked that he and his longtime partner went from “resenting” the ABC Studios series as studio chiefs since it had taken a slot away from 20th to being a “cheerleader” for the show when they took over the network. But the hospital drama was a complicated series, and, as he put it, “it didn’t resonate on our air.” He acknowledged that he and Walden had offered ABC Studios the opportunity to produce additional episodes to run during the summer in the hopes of building the audience, but the Disney-owned studio balked at the lower license fee. “Ultimately it didn’t make sense for them,” said Newman, adding: “That was a disappointment.”
So, About that Turnaround
“Big.” “Bold.” “Risky.” “Compelling.” Those were just some of the terms Newman and Walden employed to describe what they hope the Fox brand will stand for on their watch, and they pointed to their studio résumé, highlighting shows 24, Glee and American Horror Story as proof that the latter is feasible. In addition to Empire, they pointed to upcoming comedy Last Man on Earth as an accurate indication of the “big, bold swings” that the media can expect. “This one makes us a little nervous,” Newman noted of Last Man, “but we’re excited about it.”