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One of the most acclaimed TV miniseries in history almost didn’t happen, says Fox’s Dana Walden.
Walden was the newly named co-chairman and CEO of the Fox TV Group when writer-producer Ryan Murphy called to say he had read the long-gestating scripts for The People v. O.J. Simpson and was dying to film them.
“Gary [Newman, the co-chairman of Fox TV Group] and I had been in the job for about an hour — I’d not even seen the scripts,” Walden explained. “Ryan called me and said, ‘I’m obsessed. You have to read these scripts.’ And the scripts are page-turners. They are the juiciest, best-written [screenplays with] characters so complex, you connected immediately to the injustice, to racial discrimination, to the misogynistic environment that Marcia Clark worked in.”
But there was a hitch, Walden noted: “Miniseries are challenging business propositions because they don’t really travel very well internationally. They’re just sort of one-off events. And I kept saying to Ryan, ‘You can’t do this because it is a terrible piece of business, because it is not an ongoing series. … We have to find a way to make it an ongoing series.’ “
Soon after, Murphy came up with the solution: make O.J. part of a new franchise, American Crime Story — and Fox gave him the green light.
Walden acknowledged it might have been hard to say yes, for legal reasons, if the miniseries had not been based on pre-existing material — Jeffrey Toobin’s 20-year-old nonfiction The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson.
Walden said such bold thinking was encouraged at the top of Fox, under the leadership of Rupert Murdoch.
“He is a tough businessman,” she said, speaking at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV, where she took part in the ongoing interview series the Hollywood Masters. “He is very pragmatic. He is so smart, and he is a disruptor. He gets what it means to be the underdog, and you can never bet against him.”
Asked if she had any involvement with the Murdochs‘ decision to remove Fox News’ Roger Ailes, she said: “Really not at all. They are completely separate businesses. As you can imagine, the large number of creators in Hollywood are liberal Democrats, and we are talking to them about coming to Fox. If we were too linked, we would not be doing Homeland, for example.”
She recalled getting a phone call from Murdoch several years ago, when such a call would make any executive nervous. “I got a call from him, and he said, ‘Dana do you mind meeting with me for a few minutes?’ And I said, ‘Of course not.’ And he said, ‘Well, I am going to come over to your office.’ And, you know, Rupert does not spend that much time in L.A., and our office was not on the beaten path, and I thought, ‘I am going to go out and get him,’ because he will just go out on his own. He never brings anyone with him. He never has security. He is just out. And so I went to find him, and of course he gets distracted by a lot of different people along the way. He said, ‘I really just want to talk to you about something quick. Can we sit down at a picnic table out in the quad?’ So we sat down, and he wanted to ask me a silly little favor, and I turned back around to my building, and in every window there was a person looking out wondering what Rupert was saying to me. But he has total unawareness. He has a lack of awareness that he is the biggest celebrity on our lot at all times.”
A full transcript follows.
STEPHEN GALLOWAY I want to go back two years, to 2014. You’d been at Fox a long time, running their in-house studio. And now you are thrust into a very different job, also deciding what is on the air. Walk me through how that came about. What the conversations were. And why you wanted to do it.
DANA WALDEN OK, that’s a lot of questions. I had a great job running the studio. It was my dream job. But we got to a point in the industry where we were at a little bit of a crisis-point as a studio. We were run purely independently. I’m sure you guys have talked about vertically integrated companies and companies that own networks and their own studios. And the type of business that you want to try to have when you are in the network television business is to have a gigantic hit like Empire. 25 million people a week watching it. And then you also want to own it. So you want it to air on the Fox network and be produced by the Fox studio. So in this time of vertical integration, our company was set up a little bit differently from our competitors. We still ran very independently and our network was run very independently. And what happened is, as all of our competitors were starting to vertically align and self-supply, it was making it so that our studio was not selling as many shows outside of our own company. And our own company was still operating independently so they weren’t looking opportunistically at our content and saying: how could we get as much of it as possible? They were still trying to be independent. So when my predecessor on the network side, Kevin Reilly, decided that he’d had his fill of the network television business —
GALLOWAY Did he decide or did somebody help him decide?
WALDEN Well, I think he probably had a little assistance, but I actually genuinely believe that Kevin, who’s now running the Turner Networks, found himself on the opposite side of the dilemma that my partner Gary [Newman] and I were facing, which is that trying to be independent in a vertically integrated world made it hard to compete. You need to have both of those pieces aligned and working in concert. And that doesn’t mean you can’t have shows on other networks, because our studio right now — along with all of the shows we produce for our own network — we produce This Is Us, the new hit of the fall season. We produce Modern Family, Homeland. So we still have freedom to take shows to outside networks, but our focus right now and our priority is also on making the Fox Network as strong as possible.
GALLOWAY That sounds very businesslike. But here you are, you are running a major Fox division. You are working for the Murdochs. This is a tough, competitive business. We were talking just [before the interview] about the stress involved in these jobs. Nobody’s doing you a favor when they sign your contract. They want something in return. And meanwhile, the network’s not doing well…
WALDEN It is only your blood and your children.
GALLOWAY And there are rumors, there are conversations. People like me are writing about what is happening with Fox. What is the conversation? Do you get a phone call from Rupert Murdoch saying, “Dana, what are you doing for the next couple years?” How does it come about?
WALDEN Oh, well you know what, this came about in a little bit of an odd manner. I was actually offered the job, the network job before Kevin Reilly. They offered me the opportunity to come over and run the network.
GALLOWAY I didn’t know.
WALDEN Yes. And my point of view then was I would never give up the studio. My passion is with the content, with the creators, with the people that we’ve been in business with for in some cases 15 and 20 years. And so at that point, they weren’t prepared to align the two companies. And so seven years later, when the business changed so dramatically — I will tell you that my partner and I actually initiated the call to Rupert’s number two at the time, Chase Carey, who was our boss —
WALDEN — to say we had heard rumblings about Kevin, and Kevin had made it pretty well known that he wasn’t going to do this job for much longer. And rather than let someone else come in and take this job and make it so that I would be either having to displace someone to make this happen or sit back and wait for the studio to face even greater challenges, my partner and I actually sat down with Chase to say that we thought the time was right to align the two companies. And [we said to him] and my current boss, Peter Rice, who oversees all of the television businesses at Fox — sports, international channels, FX, the network, the studio — it is time. It is time for these companies to work together.
GALLOWAY Was it an easy yes from them?
WALDEN Yes. It was, “What took you so long?” Like, “We’ve been waiting for you to say it.”
GALLOWAY OK, so here you are, you have what you want.
GALLOWAY And of course that’s always a double-edged sword. Suddenly I’m in this job, oh, but I have to deliver. So what are your first conversations? What are the first decisions? What is the biggest challenge?
WALDEN There are so many challenges in our business right now. I would say, you know …
GALLOWAY But for you in that job. Suddenly you are in a brand-new office — or not. And you go, “Oh, the first phone call is to whom? On my little Post-it notes, here are the five things I need to do.” What?
WALDEN Well, there were two sides of it, because we needed to keep the studio very strong. The core objective was definitely making sure our creative partners — Ryan Murphy, Seth MacFarlane, Howard Gordon, Alex Gansa, Liz Meriwether — the people that we have exclusive deals with, who are our the soul of our company— were happy and comfortable staying at the studio and that they understood nothing is going to change. They’re not going to have pressure to develop for Fox. They’re going to have opportunities at Fox. But their shows are going to drive the conversation. We’re not going to try to retrofit what they do to suit our business needs. So that was one of our priorities. The second priority was trying to develop some strength at the Fox network. And part of the challenge is these companies are legacy, decades-old companies and when they are starting to sink, which all networks are, it is hard to stem the tide and turn it around. And so the initial conversation was with Rupert and Peter and Chase to say, “You have got to give us five or six years, where you are prepared to be patient.”
GALLOWAY Wow. Really?
WALDEN “And recognize that we’re going to have to build one hit at a time starting with Empire. And reinforce a lot of the shows that we have.” Gotham, we launched a new show that’s doing very well. Lucifer. You know, keep the development steady. We faced a lot of challenges in terms of it being the end of American Idol. We have a new 24 coming out that I’m very excited about. A new show from the creator of Empire.
GALLOWAY What is the single best decision you made in those first weeks and what is the worst decision?
WALDEN Best decision was launching Empire the first week of January.
WALDEN Because it was strategic and there was an opportunity. A lot of shows go on hiatus in January because with 22 episodes, trying to stay in continuous production it is hard. So typically the most popular network shows are still on hiatus during January. And then we had to move American Idol up three weeks to be able to pair Empire with it. And Idol didn’t want to go early. You know, producers never like to get that call.
WALDEN So trying to cajole them and understand, help them understand why early January was in their best interests as well — because it would enable them to get out of the box before a lot of the competition returned — that was our best decision.
GALLOWAY So are you picking up the phone. Who do you call?
WALDEN We called Fremantle [Media]. We called our producers. And a woman named Trish Kinane, who executive produced the show, and David Hill actually, a legendary Fox executive who was the head of Fox Sports, who then went on to executive produce American Idol.
WALDEN And we said, “This is what we need. This is where we need for you to premiere. This is the opportunity for our Wednesday night. And we’re going to put a lot of resources behind launching it. A lot of marketing support. And bottom line, we need you to make this happen.” And there was some complaining.
GALLOWAY Oh. (Laughter.)
WALDEN Some … a little bit of stress, but they made it happen. And Empire obviously was a phenomenon, actually grew in the ratings every week of its initial season. And ended up hitting an average 28, 30 million people a week. And brought a lot of circulation to our network.
GALLOWAY And the worst decision?
WALDEN The worst decision … There were a lot of — not bad decisions, but you can’t be afraid of risk. And you can’t be afraid in these jobs of making decisions, you know, trying to be overly analytical, taking too long. That’s actually worse than making a quick decision and having it be short-term the wrong decision. Well just a quick one that we had is we had launched a reality show that I didn’t buy. It was something I inherited as I walked into the office. It was called Utopia.
WALDEN And it was a reality show that was supposed to compete with Big Brother. And it was a bunch of people who were put in this huge piece of land by themselves and they were going to start their own society. And it was a social experiment. There were really no stakes, no one got voted off the island. There were a lot of problems with the format. But it was a big show in Scandinavia. And the company had committed huge resources. And it was airing three nights a week. And on Friday night, it was airing at 8:00 p.m. up against Big Brother. And our head of scheduling said, “Let’s get Utopia out of the way,” because they’re very similar audiences. “Let’s just quickly flip them. How much worse could Utopia be doing?” It was not very well received right from the beginning. And what we found out is: It could do worse.
GALLOWAY Do you internalize all those things? Do you go home and go, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, this is terrible? “Or do you let it go?
WALDEN I do not let it go! (Laughter.) So it would be the opposite of that answer.
WALDEN You know, I care a lot about these companies. And I care about the people that I work with. And it is a big responsibility. And I have a lot of passion for what I do. And I, you know, when I go home at night and it is the nature of the network job, you get a daily report card. And that’s really stressful. Again, at the studio, we’re just having a great life. We launched a huge new show with NBC. We have Empire, the number one show on broadcast. We have the No. 1 show on Showtime in Homeland. No. 1 show on ABC in Modern Family. It is just like a great big-picture, big-goals job. And [there’s] the network, the nature of the daily report card even in this changing world where everyone accepts that people aren’t just watching on our network, they’re watching on Hulu, they’re watching on Netflix, they’re watching repeats on Netflix and originals on Hulu. They’re watching on the FoxNow app. They’re watching through their own cable and satellite systems on demand. And viewers are taking control of their own schedules. There’s still a very old-school process that both the press and a lot of the elder statesmen in our business participate in where they look at the daily report card. And you say, you don’t really know how this show is going to do for two weeks. Until you get the seven-day numbers in. And then you don’t really know until as long as you have to collect the research, because these multi-platform audiences grow every single day. And we record them up through 30 days. And it is incredible, a show like Scream Queens will end up delivering 8 or 9 million people per episode, but it is going to be around a million two in the overnights. And that still feels to a lot of people like oh, it is a failure.
GALLOWAY We’re going through a media revolution in every sense. And yet the institutions remain the same. And I’ve always wondered how that can change. You have now got Amazon, Netflix, coming in with not millions or hundreds of millions but billions. And that’s forcing you to change. You have got in the film world, a technology where you don’t need to make cans of films and ship them out to Texas.
WALDEN Press a button.
GALLOWAY Press a button. How tech-savvy do you have to be in your job?
WALDEN I don’t have to be tech savvy. I mean, we have entire teams devoted to our digital businesses.
GALLOWAY But you are very involved with those digital businesses.
WALDEN We are. But I would say it comes back down to the core, what I feel my core job is, which is content creation, because the pathways can change and they are shifting, but if you don’t have great content to travel down those paths, you have nothing.
WALDEN So I still try to remain connected to the shows and the development and the creation of the shows. But yeah, we actually were a partner in building Netflix. Netflix launched on the back of many of our greatest shows.
GALLOWAY Was that a mistake?
WALDEN It is really hard to say, because at the point, you know, we call Netflix a frenemy. They are a friend to our studio, they are an enemy to our network. And they created competition for both.
GALLOWAY But this is like selling arms to Putin, you know? (Laughter.) He’s going to build an empire that’s then going to target you.
WALDEN I think Ted Sarandos will not like that comparison. (Laughter.) But yes, he’s Putin. No, I’m just kidding. (Laughs.) I did not say that. You know, again, you can’t fight technology and you can’t fight the habits of your consumers. That is a useless battle. And all of our peers were moving in the same direction. So I don’t think that Fox alone could have prevented this revolution in viewing and direct-to-consumer content distribution. And so the question is and the answer I believe is quite clear. There is room for all of us. You know, to the extent that you are producing quality, premium content. And when I look at the shows that we produce from Homeland to O.J. to Empire to our animated shows to New Girl to …
GALLOWAY But fewer and fewer people are watching them.
WALDEN Well, they’re not watching them same-day.
GALLOWAY Your colleague John Landgraf said there’s too much TV. There are what, 400 series on television?
WALDEN 500 scripted series.
GALLOWAY Is it 500 now? Unbelievable. That’s not too much?
WALDEN Yes, I think it is too much. But I think premium content will survive. I mean, again, the metrics are what they are and our business is going to have to adapt around the realities. And that’s part of the challenge, which is there are still millions and millions of people watching our shows. How do you monetize them in this new world where people are watching in their own time? You know, part of our business is advertiser-supported. We’re not in the subscription business on our network. But broadcast is still the best way to reach again 21 to 25 million people a week on Empire. You are not doing that on Netflix. They’re not an advertiser-supported business, but you are not doing that on basic cable. Save a couple shows. There are still few opportunities and the content creation, the premium content business is one that will survive.
GALLOWAY What do you like to watch?
WALDEN Well I like so many shows it is hard right now. We’re producing 50 shows, so it is a little bit hard to —
GALLOWAY So let’s say not a Fox show. I wish I had this show and I watch it all the time. Which one?
GALLOWAY I love Veep. (Applause.) I agree definitely.
WALDEN That would be my show. I love it. But I love a lot of shows. I really admire what Saturday Night Live is able to do. I mean, I’ve watched the debate. Have you guys? (Laughter.) I watch it with my 16-year-old. I watch it with my 13-year-old. I watched it separately with my husband. Makes me laugh every time, you know. I love good content. And I love House of Cards. But I’ve fallen behind again. We have so much content. The lucky thing is, I’m spending my time on shows like The Americans, which we produce. (Applause.)
WALDEN Such a good show, right? (To audience member🙂 You are a good TV viewer. I can tell. You are clapping in all the right places.
GALLOWAY How many hours of television do you watch each day?
WALDEN Oh well, weekends in particular — 15 to 20 hours.
GALLOWAY Oh my God.
GALLOWAY You recently made one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television. It was in the works before you took this job. But it has been a phenomenon. You won quite a few Emmy Awards for it. I want to show everybody a scene from one of the best episodes in that, with Courtney Vance as Johnnie Cochran. You all know what I’m talking about. This is a scene from the O.J. Simpson miniseries. (Applause.) Yes, I agree.
GALLOWAY It is brilliant, isn’t it?
WALDEN So good.
GALLOWAY We were both around when the O.J. trial took place. And now it is 20 years later. And you are resurrecting one of the most controversial, divisive cases, if not the most in American history. Were you nervous?
WALDEN Well, I was not nervous really, because every step of the way that show was managed with such a high — the aesthetic was so good. And the choices were so specific. When Gary and I took over the network, it was just a series of scripts. I think there were four scripts written in our event miniseries area at the Fox Network.
GALLOWAY Oh …
WALDEN And Nina Jacobson, one of the executive producers, is represented by the same agent as Ryan Murphy. And so Ryan called him one day to say, “What is the best thing out there that you have read that is not getting made? What can I help to get made?” And his agent sent him the [scripts], and Gary and I had been in the job for about an hour. I’d not even seen the scripts.
WALDEN And Ryan called me that weekend and said, “I’m obsessed. You have to read these scripts.” And the scripts are page-turners. They are the juiciest, best written, characters so complex, whether you were around during the trial or not, you connected immediately to the injustice, to racial discrimination, to the misogynistic environment that Marcia Clark worked in, to there was just so much and there was so much that was relevant to today. Miniseries are very challenging business propositions, because they don’t really travel very well internationally. They’re just sort of one-off events. And I kept saying to Ryan, “You can’t do this because it is a terrible piece of business, because it is not an ongoing series.” So he called me one Sunday and he said, “I can’t stop thinking about it. How do we get this made?” And I said to him, “We have to find a way to make it an ongoing series.” And he said, “Well I want to do American Crime Story.” Ryan really resurrected the anthology series with American Horror Story, you know, doing a whole new story each season. Not having continuing castmembers, characters, because he does do it with cast. And he said, “I wanted to do that in the first place,” but it was really hard to clear material to make sure you are not facing a lot of legal exposure. This the miniseries is based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book.
WALDEN So it is based on all underlying material, so we were able to avoid that type of exposure. If Ryan was just starting from whole cloth and just going by recollection or using the real story as a jumping off point [it would have been different]. And then John Landgraf, my colleague, called and said, “If it is going to be a spinoff to American Horror Story, it should be on FX because American Horror Story is an FX show,” and we all agreed. And it really took on a life of its own. And I never for one moment [had doubts]. All I thought was, this show is going to leave such a mark on the television landscape, because even with 500 shows, all I want is the next cut of O.J.
GALLOWAY It was extraordinary television.
WALDEN Yeah. How about that cast?
GALLOWAY Oh the cast is amazing. How involved are you in those decisions? Do you read every script? Do you discuss the casting?
WALDEN I do. I try to support our creators and I try to let them know when I think they’re making a real mistake. We have really talented executives in our casting area — [like] Sharon Klein, who oversees casting for our cable production unit, our network production unit and now our network. She has just beautiful taste. And, you know, Sterling Brown, who played Chris Darden, who’s now in This Is Us, was a theater actor. I don’t think he would have thought a little over a year ago that he was going to be an Emmy winner in the breakout show of the new season.
WALDEN But yes, we’re very involved in every element of production of our shows.
GALLOWAY What was the toughest decision on that show?
WALDEN How much we spent on it. (Laughs.)
GALLOWAY Because it looks expensive.
WALDEN Because it is expensive.
GALLOWAY And who signs off on that? Is that you or do you have to go to the even higher people?
WALDEN No, that’s us. They really give Gary and me a tremendous amount of autonomy. But I’ve been there 23 years. Gary’s been there 25 years.
GALLOWAY You are Fox.
WALDEN We’re financially responsible executives, but it is part of our culture and one that starts with Rupert [Murdoch], to take risks. And there is no reward without risk. And sometimes you have to invest beyond where you feel comfortable, but if you really believe in the content, content has a very long tail.
GALLOWAY What do you mean by that?
WALDEN This show will be seen. Your grandchildren will [watch it] on whatever devices they end up watching television or content. This will be around. Just like my kids are watching Seinfeld and Friends, and my 16-year-old’s first favorite show was How I Met Your Mother. And she’ll pass that on to her kids as they’re talking about content they love. Just like I talk to my kids about Friends and Hill Street Blues and Steven Bochco dramas of the day. Content has a very long tail. And ultimately M*A*S*H, which we own, probably actually exceeded $1 billion at this point in terms of its value to our company. It’s just been licensed over and over again based on its quality. And the place it occupies in people’s hearts.
GALLOWAY Let’s talk about you growing up, and when you first fell in love with television. You grew up in the L.A. area. What was the moment? When did it click? You were in school, you liked horse riding, that was your passion.
GALLOWAY You later went to USC. At what point in there did you say, “I’m in love with television and I want to be behind the scenes in television?”
WALDEN I fell in love with television very early on. I mean, I still remember, there used to be a Saturday morning animation block on each of the networks would have it. But I think I watched ABC’s. And it would start at like 6:00 a.m. in the morning and I remember so clearly because my mom went through this phase where she would only let us eat candy on the weekends. (Laughter.) I don’t know why, ’cause the weekends we would eat so much candy and we would just fly around the room on a sugar high. And then crash. (Laughter.) But I would wake up at like 5:00 a.m. I just had an internal alarm clock. And I would get out and the only show that was on was Davey and Goliath, which was actually a faith-based cartoon.
WALDEN Just waiting for the animation block to start. And I remember my mom coming in and just rolling her eyes at me and wondering why I was so passionate about this, why I couldn’t wait, that it looked so silly to her. And I remember thinking, “I will never be that adult. I will always understand cartoons.”
GALLOWAY Do you still watch cartoons?
WALDEN Well I watch a lot of animation. I mean, between —
GALLOWAY The Simpsons.
WALDEN — The Simpsons and Family Guy and the many animated shows that I’ve worked on. We have a new show. It is animation mixed with live action, Son of Zorn. So I’ve spent a lot of time in that space. But I used to watch anime, Speed Racer every day. (Applause.) Again, my poor mother, who would come in and Speed Racer was just loud and there was not a lot of character development (Laughs.) and it was just screeching cars. And I would have it on really loud. And my mother would be trying to cook dinner and I still remember her coming in, looking at me like there’s a disconnect. But then I also remember watching many great shows, Happy Days, Fantasy Island, Laverne and Shirley, you know, watching a great ABC lineup on Friday night with my parents. And I remember it collected our family together.
GALLOWAY This has changed culturally. And it worries me that there is no coming together over anything. Not over how we watch, nor what we watch. Going back to the 500 series, does that worry you socially, the impact of that?
WALDEN I think that there is still the phenomenon of co-viewing. I actually think that’s a lot of the strength of great unscripted shows like The Voice, or American Idol in its heyday.
WALDEN Or America’s Got Talent over the summer. I actually admire, I think NBC’s done a very good job of mining shows that bring families together. I think that there is so much content right now and again, I think people still connect socially about it. They might not be watching it together in a room, but when I look at the social footprint of a show like Empire or even Scream Queens, that people are Tweeting. They are on Facebook. They are posting across social media about it. There are shared experiences. So I still think television is bringing people together and creating conversations. Viewing habits are never going backwards. I watch reality with my younger daughter, Casey. She loves cooking shows.
WALDEN We watch all of our Gordon Ramsay shows together and (Laughs.) it still has created for us in our house and you still look at Super Bowl or Grease Live, which an enormous number of people watch together as a family. And Empire, that people still have viewing parties for. So, I think there are fewer and farther between and but the social conversations are make it very clear that people are sharing this content.
GALLOWAY So you are growing up, you go to USC and you actually become a publicist. Was that your dream at that point?
WALDEN Not a dream. I really didn’t dream. (Laughter.) That’s probably our head of publicity here that’s laughing. It was not my dream growing up to be a publicist. But I was very happy with that job. It was when I got out of school. I was just getting out of USC. I was trying to find a good job. My boyfriend at the time had a friend who owned a PR firm.
WALDEN And so it was just I had actually interviewed for one other job working at a game show company. And I had just seen in my dorm room a, you know, they had posted for this job. So I applied for two jobs. I got one. I worked there for five years. I worked another place —
GALLOWAY Bender, Goldman & Helper.
WALDEN Yeah, connected to this place for another year. And then I’ve been at Fox ever since.
WALDEN So I found myself on this path. It was not that I got out of school dreaming that I have to be in television. I loved television. But it was more a coincidental meeting of being in the right place at the right time. I went in and interviewed with I actually interviewed with two PR firms. The first one was Rogers & Cowan, which is still in existence. They represented a lot of celebrities. And I talked to Alan Nierob, who is still a great publicist. He was like, “Hey, Victoria Principal on one line. Oh Mary Frann on the other” — like, “Hold on, babe.” (Laughter.) And I thought —
GALLOWAY Not for me.
WALDEN I cannot, that’s not my future. But he loved it so much. And has helped to craft so many careers since then. And now represents big superstars. But when I was sitting and talking to him, he said, “I have friends that just started a new PR firm and they are entertainment, [but] more business publicity. I think you might be interested.” And I went over. It was this company, Bender Goldman & Helper. And they were brand new. They’d been open about a month. And I interviewed with one of the principals and he said, “We have no money. And I don’t know when I would be able to hire you.” And I said, “I’ll intern for free.” Because my parents said they would support me for two months outside of college if I wanted to pursue something that was really excited about. And after like five months — which made my parents’ house look very tired to me and I was ready to get out — Larry Goldman said, “You know what?” A job opened up on his desk working as his assistant. And I stayed until then because I kept getting very close. But budgets were very tight. And I worked on shows. I worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
WALDEN Which was really interesting because I was not a genre television fan at the time and now I’ve worked on so many, starting with The X-Files when I got to Fox. So many great genre shows. And they represented the studios in publicizing shows. So it was a great way to see the entire business. I worked with directors, with executives, I saw everything.
GALLOWAY You started as an assistant.
GALLOWAY Like many people here will start. Were you a good assistant?
WALDEN I was awful. (Laughter.)
WALDEN I was a genuinely terrible assistant whom I would have fired if I was my own assistant.
WALDEN Because I thought I was smarter than my boss. And it just didn’t seem appropriate to me that I should be making his lunch reservations when I also had to do some of his job. And he was so patient with me. And so nurturing because he saw a lot of potential. And ultimately in that job I realized that my job as an assistant was to make his life really good and easy and manageable. And as soon as I connected with the different stepping stones of a career and what that stage is supposed to do, it made sense to me. And then I became a great assistant.
GALLOWAY Oh. What helped you get so far so fast? Was it that you worked longer hours? Was it knowledge?
WALDEN I was completely committed to my job. I had very little social life, because I was very social in my work. So it was satisfying that need. I didn’t feel like I was being left out of anything. I felt I had stumbled into this incredible career and I just wanted to soak it up. I think people fall fundamentally into two groups — get it, don’t get it. Someone that doesn’t get it doesn’t mean they can’t be successful, just means it is probably not going to happen really quickly. Someone that gets it is typically unstoppable. And I for the people that I worked for early on in my career, I just kind of got it. I got what they needed and how I could be helpful to them, whether it was my boss or our clients. I ultimately was hired away by a client, Arsenio Hall, who had a talk show during the time.
WALDEN And then when I worked for Arsenio, I really understood what the executives at Paramount who were producing his show, what they needed and in particular what a woman named Lucie Salhany, who was a really inspirational role model, a person who just opened my eyes to the potential of a woman in business, and what it looked like for a woman to be the boss, and I made …
GALLOWAY Was it much harder then for a woman to be the boss?
GALLOWAY And in what way did that impact you? Did you feel that there was a chauvinism, or a sexism?
WALDEN I have always said that I think Hollywood is a club, it is a boys’ club, but I am a member.
GALLOWAY Is it still a boys’ club?
WALDEN Yes, at the highest levels it is. I am oftentimes the only woman in a meeting of our senior-most executives. Stacey Snider has just joined the group, but really up until, you know, a month ago, I would sit in a monthly management meeting where I was the only woman with 18 or 19 men, and when I was younger and I used to have my spiel about it is a club, and I am a member, I did not realize what my responsibility was in that which is to help other women rise up, and become members, and I think it is the issue is so deep, it is so much deeper than just a chauvinistic environment, or, it is bosses want to hire people you know can do the job and will make your life easy. Who has the greatest level of experience? Who has done this before? Who has a track record? Probably a middle-aged white man. OK, so, middle-aged white man is going to make my life easier, or I can take a risk on a woman, or create waves for myself, and you have to. You have to create discomfort to change what is the complexion of the board room right now.
GALLOWAY Even today?
WALDEN For sure.
GALLOWAY You very famously created discomfort, I don’t know, 20 years ago …
WALDEN Thank you. I think Shannon [Ryan] and Chris [Alexander, her publicists] would agree with that. (Laughter.)
GALLOWAY I am just talking about one particular moment. You were running publicity at Fox TV and you noticed that Peter Chernin, a major, major television executive, every time he was introduced to you would just not recognize you. There was a company retreat and you went and you said something. What happened?
WALDEN It is true, I had met him a number of times, like an embarrassing number of times, like 10 times, 12 times, and each time he would stick out his hand and say “Nice to meet you.” (Laughter.) And I was getting really mad about it, because, to myself, I was not that forgettable at the time. I thought, how can someone meet me 12 times, and still be saying, nice to meet you? And so, I was working for, in publicity at Fox, for a variety of different divisions, and I was going from one division retreat in Laguna straight up to Santa Barbara to another division retreat where Peter was going to be. And I remember driving and saying to myself, “I am not going out like that. I am not going to be invisible. I am going to tell this person that he has met me 13 times, and I am going to tell him my point of view.” I knew that each of the department heads was going to be called on to give a bit of a state of the union, and typically I would have made a very respectful and conservative presentation about our strengths, about where we needed to develop greater strategy, and instead, when it was my turn, I talked about where we were deficient, and why it was kind of a joke that Rupert Murdoch who distinguished himself as such a trailblazer, who when he goes after something gets it, and in the television space, we were kind of dipping our toe into the water in making deals with great creators, and we were timid, and our competitors were beating us to the deals, and so, I was just as frank and candid as I can be. And then after the presentation that night at dinner I was seated next to Peter. So, I knew either, like, this is really bad, or something good has happened, and this is going to be a really uncomfortable dinner where I tell him again who I am, or —
GALLOWAY Or I am fired.
WALDEN Well, I did not think he would [do that]. I did not think I would be seated next to him. I did not think he was going to fire me over dinner.
GALLOWAY What came out of that very risky move was that Peter moved you from publicity to —
WALDEN — programming.
GALLOWAY Production development. There is a gulf between these worlds. There are very, very few who have made that step.
WALDEN It was really hard. We actually have a couple of examples of people in our own company that we have been able to do that with. Our current head of research we have just recently moved into drama development. She had a lot of passion for it, she is really smart and talented. I stepped backward in my career, I was a senior vice president, I stepped back to a vice president. I took less salary. There were compromises that I was prepared to make that sometimes my partner and I have offered other executives similar opportunities, and they just felt uncomfortable taking a step back, and I saw it as an opportunity to make a move across, and that then I would be able to move up.
GALLOWAY To make the right long-term move is generally a good strategy. Before we leave your time in publicity, I want to talk about a seminal series you made. So, let us take a look at The X-Files.
GALLOWAY This show is very interesting because, first of all, it spawned some of the best writers in television that you are still working with, but also it had a writers’ room that changed constantly. This was not a particularly happy environment. Watching that show from the distance of publicity where you are not responsible for it directly, what did you learn?
WALDEN Well, that writers’ room actually stayed together for a very long time. They were a dysfunctional family, but they stayed a family for a long time, and it was really extraordinary. Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon who created Homeland. Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad. Chris [Carter], who went on to do other things. You know, I have had the opportunity, really the lucky opportunity, in my career several times to be a part of shows that touch the culture, that become culturally relevant, phenomenal, they are part of the zeitgeist, and it actually happened on The Arsenio Hall Show. He was the first black talk show host, and he was the first talk show host to compete really with Johnny Carson. You know, extraordinary. He was on the cover of Time and Newsweek in the same week, which when you are a publicist, that is like the Holy Grail if you have got both of those covers.
GALLOWAY That is nirvana. I forgot that.
WALDEN So, X-Files was another one where there was just a fundamental distrust of the government that people could not articulate. There was an unease, people felt like they were being lied to, like the truth was being hidden from them, and Chris Carter who created this show, who before that had done comedies, he had done, like, Rags to Riches for NBC, he was not the person that you would have thought would tap into a national sentiment, and he just did. And it was sort of extraordinary to me in my role in publicity, because you couldn’t pick up the phone fast enough. There was just something about this content, and it happened again with Ally McBeal, then it happened with Glee. It has happened with Empire, where a piece of entertainment speaks to an audience in such a powerful way that, you know, conventions popped up around the X-Files. People just wanting to spend time with these characters beyond what they could see every week on the show. So …
GALLOWAY What did you learn in your business from working on that?
WALDEN Take risks. No one was making a show like the X-Files. You have to do bold, original content, which gets harder and harder, because there is so much content now, but you have to still keep trying to find pockets of the audience that are underserved, and creates events for them. You cannot be derivative. You cannot say, I mean, everyone tried to chase the success of The X-Files. There were more shows about the paranormal and supernatural, and they all failed, that were in proximity to that show, and it really taught me that you have to just swing for the fences creatively, you cannot play it safe.
GALLOWAY Are there risks that you did not take, that you regret?
WALDEN We were offered to take over production on CSI.
GALLOWAY And why did you not?
WALDEN It was so expensive. During the time — this was predated me being in a decision-making role, but it was an extremely expensive show, which is why Disney actually produced the pilot, and Disney, which owns ABC, did not want to spend the amount of money producing a show for CBS. So, CBS sort of took it out to auction with the pilot. I don’t think anyone understood, again, what a phenomenon that show would become, and every other studio passed.
GALLOWAY You mentioned risk, what are the other factors that make a great executive?
WALDEN Creative executive?
GALLOWAY Any executive in your job. When you look around, if you are going to hire an executive, what are the talents that you think elevate this person from good to great?
WALDEN Relationships. How strong are their relationships? How likely is it that Ryan Murphy is going to want to make a deal with that person? Do they support a creator’s vision? Can they manage a great creator, because it is tricky. Ryan, who is one of my best friends — I am actually the godmother of his children — it is a tricky relationship, because I am also the person that has to say to him —
GALLOWAY Who pays the bills.
WALDEN “Hey, O.J. is $3 million overbudget, what are you doing?” And, it is tricky, but finding someone that can balance those relationships, and someone that has good taste. My job is all about having a great picker. Like, can you pick the show? Can you pick the writer? Can you pick the director? Can you package a project? Are you connected with the tastes of viewers?
GALLOWAY You have been partnered for a long time with Gary Newman, and this is a very interesting partnership, because Gary was the business guy, you were more the creative person. You were both were in the running to lead Fox’s studio, and somebody said, “We will give you the job, but you have to do it together.” Would you have been able to do it without him?
WALDEN The story is just a teeny bit off, because I would say I was not in the running at the time. Gary was really acting as the interim head of the company, and I was the head of drama. I really had never worked in comedy development at the time. I had never worked in business affairs. But Gary taught me so much, even before we were partners. And, I think that it was less about “you only get this job together” than it was, “the two of you together could do this, or we have to go outside to find someone who has both sides of the experience.” And Gary and I had been great friends, and great colleagues …
GALLOWAY So, you did know each other very well at that point?
WALDEN Oh yeah, we had worked together at that point for probably eight years. So, we knew each other very well, and it was a great opportunity for both of us. And, it took a while. I mean, we have now been partners for seventeen years, so it has worked out incredibly well, but I would say the first couple years we were both insecure about what we did not know, and we ended up just making a pact with each other that we would help the other learn enough so that there is no meeting that each of us can’t cover alone, and over time, you know, you grow into these roles, and at a certain point these jobs are so stressful, and the volume is so crushing that having a partner is actually a gift, and it is enabled both of us to be present in the lives of our family in a way that I don’t even think it would be possible if you were doing it alone.
GALLOWAY How do you make that work? Do you divide responsibilities? There was one point, briefly, where you shared an office, but I think only by accident.
WALDEN That was a dark period. (Laughter.) I mean, I like the guy a lot, but I needed some privacy!
GALLOWAY How do you divide and conquer?
WALDEN — and we did not share an office by design. It was when we were moving over to the network, we were doing construction, and we wanted to have an office in the network. So, there was only one, we shared it. You know, there is no hard and fast rule. We are copied on every single email. You do not send an email in our organization that is not addressed or copying both of us, so that we can both weigh in. There have been few items that we do not share a point of view, but I would say that everyone still defaults down to, in a pinch, if it is creative, marketing, it is probably coming to me. If it is business affairs, business development, it is probably going to Gary. If you can only make one call, that is probably …
GALLOWAY How many times do you speak on the phone each day?
WALDEN Just an annoying amount of times. We talk all day, every day, every day of the weekend, every day on vacation.
GALLOWAY What have you learned from him?
WALDEN So much. Gary is incredibly intelligent. I am very impulsive, and he is very analytical. He is super thoughtful, sometimes to the point that it frustrates me, and I will make a decision. Again, I feel like part of leadership is being able to make quick decisions, and provide people with quick direction. That is not always the right move, but together we balance each other out, and he is very smart about the future of the business. He really helped to steer our company through a lot of change and a lot of different crossroads, and he is just very savvy and sees how the pieces fit together in a way that is pretty visionary.
GALLOWAY Does he have the same taste as you?
WALDEN No. No two people have the same taste. He is uncertain about his creative judgment. I think it is just, if you do not grow up in the creative path you think there is some secret skill, like, someone is born with it, and someone is not. It is all taste. It is, What do you like? It is, Is that confusing? Did you root for that character? Are you excited by that episode? Do you want to come back? Executives oftentimes mistake themselves for writers and think they have to talk to a writer like a writer about the protagonist and stakes.
GALLOWAY You don’t?
WALDEN You don’t.
GALLOWAY Speaking of Ryan Murphy, he came to you with this just astonishing idea and said, “We are going to do a high school musical.” Let’s take a look at a clip from Glee.
GALLOWAY It is amazing you can do that on television.
WALDEN Did everyone watch Glee? That was her biological mom.
GALLOWAY Dennis Potter in England did the singing detective a half-hour series where people break into song. I think Steven Bochco had —
WALDEN Cop Rock.
GALLOWAY Right, but it was not a success, right?
GALLOWAY So, here you are, coming into this. Whose idea was it and what was your and Gary’s reaction?
WALDEN Well, Ryan Murphy came in to talk to us about it, and it is funny, it was at the very beginning of our relationship with Ryan, so it is back probably a decade ago now, 11 years ago, and he had been given a feature script by Ian Brennan, who is one of the co-creators of Glee, and it was for Glee. Ryan changed it a lot, but the jumping-off point was this high school, you know, when Ryan first said it is set in high school, which again, it is really hard to do a broadcast show set in high school, because it is an isolated experience. It is a certain period of a person’s life. It does not have adult, typically, point of view in it. So, it is hard to engage an adult audience. So, you know, when people are pitching you, the first thing you are thinking is, like, oh, that is going to be hard.
WALDEN OK, it is high school, and they are singing, and what Ryan talked about in that first meeting, and Ryan is brilliant. Brilliant gets tossed around, like, this guy is — he just sees things in a way that is so entertaining, and just brings everything the level of showmanship, just brings every project up to this place that is dazzling. And so, that he was bringing it in the first place was meaningful, and …
GALLOWAY Because you already thought that about him at that point?
WALDEN Yes, because he had already done Nip/Tuck, which I thought was a pretty amazing series. I mean, it was so distinctive. The tone was so impossible, and yet, so successful. And, he talked a lot about, instead of talking about, like, singing and dancing, like that was the backdrop. This was about outsiders. This was about the overweight girl, and the geeky theater girl, and diversity, and racism, and feeling alienated, and getting to see the popular kids, and how it is not what it appears, the façade of that. That it was really a show about — and, gay kids, and handicapped kids, and it was a show about outsiders, and the outsiders prevail. They are the winners in this story, and it was very aspirational, and it was a no-brainer. Like, we loved it. I would say that Gary probably had the greatest level of reservation. I think if you come from the financial side of our business, you know, again, there are, like, high school is really hard, American high school is not a well-traveling genre.
GALLOWAY And then you have to dub it into foreign languages, which is not easy.
WALDEN With all of the music, and …
GALLOWAY And getting the rights to the music is not cheap.
WALDEN That is correct. It was a very expensive show.
GALLOWAY Was the initial pitch over lunch or does he come to your office?
WALDEN No, he came into our office.
GALLOWAY Have you read the script at that point?
WALDEN He left it after he talked to us about it.
GALLOWAY How quickly did you say yes?
WALDEN Oh, we said yes in the room. We said yes before he came in the room. I will back anything Ryan wants to do.
GALLOWAY Really? With certain budget parameters? With a certain number of episodes, or what?
WALDEN Yeah, well, at the time we were not running the network as well. So, we were running the studio where we worked with Ryan on the pitch, and then we went into Kevin Reilly, and Peter Liguori, who was running the network at the time. They both knew Ryan very well because they had run FX before, so they did Nip/Tuck with him. And, Kevin got right on board, and we made a pilot. It was not a huge risk for a network. They gave it a pilot commitment, so they got to see what it was, but when that pilot came in you could hear it throughout the halls of our company, like, blaring. People were just, it was fresh, and it was new, and it was so beautifully cast, and we actually cast the show in our little studio casting room. We brought in a piano, and all of those actors had to come in a sing for us live. Lea Michele actually was an hour late for her audition, and came in. She had had a car accident just outside the lot. She came in with glass in her hair. Talk about, like, the show must go on! And we said to her, “You can come back. We will do this tomorrow.” She was like, “Nope.”
GALLOWAY You were there for that, were you?
GALLOWAY What did she sing? Do you remember?
WALDEN It was Barbra Streisand for sure.
GALLOWAY Did anything change fundamentally from the pilot to the series?
WALDEN We added Dianna Agron. We added a popular girl into it, and we did some reshooting. Oh yeah, we added Jane [Lynch].
GALLOWAY How much do you enlist the support of your bosses? How much do you show them? For instance, I know when you did the O.J. miniseries not only did you have a screening for Rupert Murdoch, and his sons, but I think for the entire Fox board. How often does that happen?
WALDEN That really never happens. That was just a coincidence. I was in a meeting with Lachlan, and James, and I said, “Hey, I am going down to screen O.J., do you want to come with me?” And they said, “Yes, that sounds fun. Dad do you want to come?”
GALLOWAY Oh, how funny.
WALDEN I do not think that Ryan was anticipating that Gary and I were going to walk in the room with Rupert, James and Lachlan, but we were all just blown away.
GALLOWAY Was Rupert?
WALDEN Yes, absolutely. He loved it.
GALLOWAY What’s he like?
WALDEN You know, he is tough. He is a tough businessman. He is very pragmatic. He is so smart, as you would imagine, and he is a disruptor. He gets what it means to be the underdog, and you can never bet against him. He has got so much passion for the newspaper business. I actually have been most intrigued with Rupert when I watch him talk about the newspaper business, and he can look at the layout of a paper and just dissect how it has been laid out, and you know, he is running Fox News now at 85, and the ratings have totally stabilized after, as everyone knows, a huge shake-up in that company.
GALLOWAY How involved with that were you? You all know what has happened with Roger Ailes at Fox News. Were you involved in those conversations?
WALDEN Really not at all. They are completely separate business. As you can imagine, the large number of creators in Hollywood are liberal Democrats, and we are talking to them about coming to Fox. If we were too linked, we would not be doing Homeland, for example.
GALLOWAY Yes, yes. How is the transition from Murdoch to the two sons impacting you? Because there ‘s been a lot of change on the corporate level at that company.
WALDEN I spend a lot of time with Lachlan. He is based in Los Angeles. I find him to be just a fantastic leader. He is supportive. He is really smart. He gives us all a lot of autonomy and freedom to run our business. He weighs in with helpful ideas, and when the going gets rough, he is there. He is there for you and supportive. I do not spend a lot of time with James, although I have known him for a very long time. He has clearly been in and out of budget meetings over the years, and a part of different retreats, and Rupert I have been working with for a very long time. Rupert is bitterly smart, but also when you get the call from Rupert, sometimes you are just wondering, what is it going to be? You have to really be prepared. He is going to ask you — if you try to hide something from Rupert, for sure, it is the first thing he will ask about.
GALLOWAY When he summons you to a meeting are you nervous?
WALDEN I am not nervous now, after all of these years. I will say, early on — I mean, I have had so many funny interactions with Rupert. I will tell one quick story. I got a call from him two years ago. It was just before we came over. We were doing the network job, but still operating out of the studio offices, and they are separate from the network office, which is where Rupert’s office is. So, I got a call from him, and he said, “Dana do you mind meeting with me for a few minutes?” And I said, “Of course not.” And he said, “Well, I am going to come over to your office.” And, you know, Rupert does not spend that much time in L.A., and our office was not on the beaten path, and I thought, “I am going to go out and get him,” because he will just go out on his own. He never brings anyone with him. He never has security. He is just out. And so, I went to find him, and of course he was, like, he gets distracted by a lot of different people along the way. So, I went and got him, and he said, “OK, I really just want to talk to you about something quick. Can we sit down at, like, a picnic table out in the quad in between buildings?” So we sat down. It was about four o’clock. It was pretty empty, even though there is a cafe right there, but it was pretty empty. And I sit down, and I am talking to him, and he wanted to ask me, it was such a silly thing, it was like a silly little favor that he was asking that of course I would do, and I was looking at him like this — and I turned back around to my building, and in every window there was a person looking out (laughter) wondering what Rupert was saying to me. But he has total unawareness. He has a lack of awareness that he is the biggest celebrity on our lot at all times.
GALLOWAY One of the things that is so interesting is, here are these guys — especially Murdoch, who was really the bugaboo of liberals — and yet, Fox has done so much for diversity, for gender, for race. All these shows. Just before we come to student questions, let’s take a look at a show that I think was a turning point, Empire.
GALLOWAY Diversity. How much do you talk about that internally, and how much did you talk about that when you came to do this?
WALDEN To do Empire?
GALLOWAY Yeah, the issue of diversity.
WALDEN You know what, the issue of diversity is really one that starts behind the scenes. I am proud of our shows. I am proud of how our shows look, but I am more proud about making deals with people like Lee Daniels who created this show, and to have genuine diversity you have to have a diversity of stories, and people who want to create shows that reflect their experiences, how they see the world. It can’t be mandated. So, really, our mandate right now, and through shows like Empire is building writers, directors, talent that we are then taking and employing on other shows, and looking to those people to create new shows, but Empire is one of the greatest joys of my career. It is one of the best experiences I have ever had.
WALDEN Because the people involved are so talented, and, you know, Terrence [Howard], who is really, he is a little bit the unsung hero on the show. Taraji [P. Henson] gets a lot of attention, and it is well earned, that it is a breakout role for her, but Terrence is so gifted as a performer. He makes Lucious Lyon feel like a real person. He makes that place feel like it is a real label. Just the little turns that you, when you have watched a lot of actors, he is just gifted, and there is a spirit of family on that show. We have just actually completed renegotiating all of the cast on that show.
GALLOWAY For how long?
WALDEN You did not hear about it. We don’t talk about the specifics of our deals, but —
GALLOWAY For how long have you renewed? For how many years?
WALDEN We don’t talk about that. Good try, Stephen Galloway. (Laughter.) It was quiet, it was done in a completely respectful way. It was done by a group of people who care so much about the show and each other that no one made any kind of threats. No one delayed production. No one acted out. Everybody moved forward in a spirit of respect and collaboration, and that is pretty rare that you find such a large group of people who are all united.
GALLOWAY Is Lee [Daniels] still very involved with the show?
WALDEN He is not as involved. I mean, he will always be involved, and he gets involved in the music, and he is still very involved in the casting, and our cast has very strong connections to Lee, but Lee is doing a new show for us, Star, that is based in Atlanta, and we do Empire in Chicago.
GALLOWAY What stage is Star at now?
WALDEN Star is just wrapping production on the second episode, and it is Lee’s follow-up to Empire. It is really the making of a girl band, but it is really gritty. It’s far more Precious in terms of what Lee’s done in the past than glitzy like Empire. It is Queen Latifah, Lenny Kravitz, Naomi Campbell, Benjamin Bratt, and these three young, amazingly gifted performers, who we meet at the very bottom. Carlotta, who is Latifah’s character, is their godmother, and they have just been reunited, and these are girls that have been through child welfare service, and it is a gritty journey to stardom.
GALLOWAY I think Wesley Snipes was meant to play the Terrence role originally. What happened there?
WALDEN Well, I do not think he was meant to take it, but he was certainly the first name on the list, and it just was not — I do not think that the first meeting he had — the chemistry just did not seem to be there, and pretty quickly after Taraji got the role, she felt very strongly about Terrence. They had worked together, obviously, did such great work on Hustle and Flow.
GALLOWAY Did you all see Hustle and Flow, by the way?
WALDEN God, it is one of my favorite films.
GALLOWAY If you haven’t, oh, it is unbelievable filmmaking.
WALDEN It is so good.
GALLOWAY You have had some ratings struggles with Empire, and generally this season, how with a show like that do you turn that around?
WALDEN Well, I do not really think it needs to be turned around. You have to take it in the context of our entire industry. Every show annually loses ratings. That is just where we are as an industry because there is so much content. Empire is still averaging 18, 19, 20 million people an episode, and it is still the number one show on broadcast, and the show is so good this season. And so, trying to keep people focused on what we talked about earlier, which is this is not a nightly race. This is about three-day, seven-day, 30-day roll up. Are viewers connecting with our shows over time? And we own Empire, so that 30 day roll up is very meaningful, and it is just trying to adjust to a new normal.
GALLOWAY Last question. What will the new normal be in five years?
WALDEN I think that probably every media company will have their own OTT [over-the-top content] service where they will be going direct to consumers in some fashion, and when those models are created, they are going to offset ratings erosion, because there will be another revenue stream which will be a subscription revenue stream, and all of the companies that are aggregating quality, high-end, premium content are going to have a treasure trove of shows that are going to be accessible on a pay scale that becomes a great value proposition for customers, and I think that’s the future.
GALLOWAY I hope you are right. OK, questions.
QUESTION I am a sophomore film production major and a history minor, and I am aspiring entertainment law student in the future, and my question would be, what advice would you have for students like me who are pursuing a career in the entertainment industry, but on the business side of it, and in regards to gender discrimination, and have you even been in a situation where you had to prove yourself to your male colleagues.
GALLOWAY Good questions.
WALDEN OK, good. So, the first part of your question, what to do, there are so many ways now to connect with all of the media companies. You can go online, you can connect with the HR departments. You can actually, I mean, when I was starting out it was so much more difficult just to make that initial connection, but particularly in the legal, and business affairs areas, there are internship programs. There are always opportunities for assistants, for paralegals, for talented, smart young people. I would look into on the Fox website you can even look to connect with different human resources executives around our company, and just explore what programs are offered by the different media companies. There are actually quite a few, especially for women. There is great outreach into all school communities, campus communities with outreach from the major media companies for women. And, I would probably recommend starting there, and then, in terms of discrimination, I do not think I have had to prove myself in a way that my male counterparts have, but I do think you have to put a little bit blinders on, and not worry about that, and stay focused on what your track is, what your career is, how you can become invaluable to your boss. What are the things that you can do that are just going the extra mile that make your boss’s life a little bit easier, because those people are always recognized. It doesn’t matter whether it is men or women, and I actually think it is a really good time right now. People are highly sensitized to the issue, and there is a lot of pressure being brought on the industry in general to promote women, to recognize women, to facilitate opportunities for smart women. You are actually entering the business, or about to enter the business at a really good time for women.
GALLOWAY Do you think that’s equally true of minorities?
WALDEN I do. I do think there is a great emphasis right now. All of us are trying to change the complexion of our company, to change what we look like. We want to look like our viewers, and so, there is opportunities we are always trying. You know, when there are either entry level, or frankly, levels at any place in our organization, we look to HR, where are the diversity candidates? How do we increase, again, what our company looks like so that we can look like our audience. It’s good business. It’s not really as much social responsibility, because I have found that in the past does not work. What works is, Empire‘s the number one show on television, that’s good business.
GALLOWAY Right, next question please.
QUESTION I am a first-year grad student in the writing and producing for TV program, and you touched a little bit on it earlier about how important relationships are, and how you kind of make your partnership with Gary Newman work, but just kind of curious, you have been in that partnership in a very high-pressure situation for a long time. So, are there any kind of strategies you two have, or kind of default settings you go to if things ever get hard or tense?
WALDEN Tums are a very good strategy. (Laughter.) You know, having a partner has made this job much more tolerable in terms of the level of stress. Just being able to go in a room with someone who is neither your boss nor someone that works for you, because dynamics are always weighted in either situation where you can’t be 100 percent yourself. Gary and I can let our hair down, which will only be funny for Chris and Shannon, because Gary is losing his hair, but he would like to think he is letting his hair down, and just be honest, and be candid about the pressure, and it is — I was telling Stephen when I first got here, I drove home last night, and the fall is never a good time at Fox. It is not when we are our strongest. All of our successful shows have launched midseason when we have the football playoffs. This year we have the Super Bowl. We are launching the new 24 out of the Super Bowl. Star will launch that first part of the week. We have a fantastic …
GALLOWAY But this fall has been very tough.
WALDEN Every fall is tough.
WALDEN If you look back, Fox is either tied for number three, or number four in the fall. I think it is part of the legacy of American Idol, which always started at midseason, and it is just hard for Fox up against the big guys that have late-night shows and morning shows, and national news services that fall is all about the circulation of those companies driving viewers into their primetime. Midseason when you can be scrappy and you can use our football platform, it is just so much greater. It is why we saved seven of our new shows to launch midseason. And only took out really, you know, three, four, counting Zorn, for fall. But wait, I forgot, oh, with Gary Newman. So I drove into my driveway last night, and my older daughter Eliza’s room sits right on our driveway. And she threw open the doors and she said, “Hi mom.” And I said, “I just really, my job is not good today.” And she goes OK, and she kind of closes the window, because she is totally accustomed to this roller coaster. But then I came downstairs and I said, “What if I am just a stay-at-home mom with you?” And she goes, “Mom, I have a car now, so I do not really need you to.” I was like, “I guess I will go back to work tomorrow.”
QUESTION I am a second-year grad student in the writing and producing for television program, in grad school. My question is how does someone like a student get an internship at a big-name company, like Fox or NBC or CAA, because it is so competitive, and lot of times when you apply online you do not even know if they see your application.
WALDEN Well, you can call and follow up. You know what I mean? All of the websites have contact information along with email addresses and places for you to send your résumé. And I would say being persistent and really compelling that person to bring you in, take a meeting, be able to put a face to the name and to the résumé, and talk about being open too. I think that a little bit of what happens in the internship programs is, I know from experience with our own, you have the creative area and then you have the production area, and everyone wants to get into those internship programs. But really, our casting area or our business area or our legal area, you are going to see so much of the organization. You are just not on the same long queue for the most desirable internships. They are all great programs. But call, be a voice.
QUESTION I am a graduate student working toward a graduate degree in writing and producing for television, and I have a creative question for you. What about a script really excites you, and how do you know if the script is going to hit an audience pulse and become very popular?
WALDEN Good question. A great script is like a great book. When you find yourself in the middle of a great book, and you do not want to put it down, and you start living in the reality of that book. If you are reading a great novel, and all of a sudden you go to bed that night and you are having weird thoughts as if you are a character in that novel, because it is so engrossing, and you are connecting to those people, and you are excited about what you are reading, and it is engaging. Those are all the qualities that we look for in a great script. Are the characters compelling? Do the relationships feel real and deep? Is it exciting? Do I want to come back to it? What about it feels special and original? Do I feel like I have read it before? Again, it is sort of everything that you would look for if you were recommending a book to your best friend. That would be same as if you put down a great script. The script for Homeland is one of the best things I have ever read in my life. And I have had the good fortune of working with so many great writers that you rush home. I used to work with David Kelley for a long time, who did The Practice and Boston Legal, Ally McBeal, Picket Fences. And when I had a script from him it was like I would get into bed early. And just start reading it, and you disappear into the world that has been created by a great writer.
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Robert De Niro