Mel's Diner: You’ll Laugh, You’ll Cry…

David Madden, Fox’s new entertainment chief, on the comedy and drama of a diverse career and the moment he was offered one of TV’s most intense gigs

THE DISH: Things have come full circle for David Madden right here at a favorite breakfast place, John O’Groats. The understated restaurant that Madden likes because “it’s casual and coffee shop-ish,” and “gives the day a start of energy that’s different than a more formal place,” is an old neighborhood haunt of Madden and his wife, producer Marci Pool—their family used to live in nearby Cheviot Hills. It’s also mere blocks from the Fox lot, where Madden’s new office overlooks the building in which he began his career as a 23-year-old feature script reader.

From “grinding out coverage” in a little office, Madden, the former Fox TV Studios president who in August was named entertainment president of Fox Broadcasting, went on to produce more than 20 films in a range of genres. And as he takes on leadership of all genres at the Fox network, he recalls a time in his film career when he experienced “one of the great opportunities of the entertainment business,” which is “to do things that work in very different ways and be gratified by both of them.”

1101_MelsDiner_Check.jpgAs a studio executive at Paramount, there was a period when he oversaw the simultaneous production of two disparate films. One was Children of a Lesser God, shot at a real school for the deaf off the coast of New Brunswick, Canada, where “an incredibly beautiful and meaningful story” was being told. From there, he’d fly back to L.A., to shoot “totally ridiculous and silly” comedy, The Naked Gun.

“If I was only doing one of those two things, it would have been probably a much more arduous experience, but the balance of being able to work on something that was deep and trying to be profound and something else that was just trying to be really fun and entertaining, that was fantastic,” Madden says.

The role of a broadcast network entertainment president could certainly be considered arduous, especially so for Fox at the moment. So far this season, the net—which finishe second in the adults 18-49 demo last season— has averaged a 2.2 rating so far, putting it in fourth among the Big Four broadcasters. With the exception of Gotham, none of Fox’s new offerings have caught on and last year’s rookie success, Sleepy Hollow, has struggled.

In his fi rst in-depth interview since taking the reins of Fox Entertainment, Madden discussed the task of taking it all on so far, the future of pilot season and the moment he realized Fox TV Group chairmen-CEOs Gary Newman and Dana Walden were offering him the job. Highlights of the conversation follow.

Describe your first seven weeks on the job.

The fastest description: It has been a nonstop adrenaline rush. I was very busy at my other job, but this job operates with a speed and an intensity that I didn’t really expect. I sort of knew it from afar. It is a different thing to estimate it from afar than to experience it first-hand.… It’s been truly a tremendously consuming job [having started during pitch season]. Adding onto that, launching all the shows, trying to get involved in all of the shows, dramas, comedies and reality shows that we’re doing. It’s been so immersive. Plus trying to get to know all the people…and trying to plug into what Dana and Gary need me to do and the role that I need to play. With all those things to do, it’s been like a breathless sprint. And I’m looking forward to a pause, somewhere around Christmas, but so far, still sprinting.

The development process is a big burning question throughout the industry. Former Fox Broadcasting entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly was so passionate and vocal about changing the process when he was at Fox. How do you see it? Do you see it like he sees it? What’s your approach?

My approach will be evolutionary because I feel like until I understand how it’s being done, it’s silly for me to try to change how it’s done. That said, I think there are some things that I quite like. One thing that he instituted was the combination of the development department and the current department. I’ve thus far kept that in place. I know some people said that’s not a good idea. I like that idea.

In a smaller company like Fox TV Studios, we were able to not have a current department and to essentially have the development executives be the executives throughout the life of a show. We’re currently maintaining that philosophy. I like the idea that the people who were involved at the beginning, who were present at the creation of a show, who were part of the establishment of that show’s DNA, that they can live with the show all the way through and continue to have a perspective on that show. Like a parent.