News Articles

Foxs split personality

Two different studios with two distinct styles 5/28/2000 08:00:00 PM Eastern

In a vastly changed environment in which networks increasingly own all or parts of the shows on their schedules, Fox's television empire is a tale of two studios with different styles and missions.

First, there's Twentieth Century FOX Television, headed by Sandy Grushow, and then there's FOX Television Studios, headed by David Grant.

Twentieth is glitzy and the home of some of Hollywood's biggest names.

FOX Television Studios takes pride in making shows on shoestring budgets with little or no fanfare.

But combined, Twentieth Century FOX and FOX TV Studios now make up one of the most powerful production studios in all of network television and are on their way to becoming one of cable's most prolific content providers as well.

Twentieth and FOX, as a combined studio entity, came out as the top program supplier of the 2000-2001 upfront presentations. This fall, Twentieth will have 19 shows on four different networks. Various FOX TV entities will have 6 shows. (Twentieth and FOX are co-producers of two series, so the total only adds up to 23.)

But as a company, the new Viacom-CBS has a substantial lead through its Paramount and CBS Studios divisions (see story, page 20), and that combination is a vivid indication of the consolidation of the industry.

At CBS, the network has an ownership stake in six out of the seven new shows on its fall schedule. And so, while Twentieth's Yes, Dear landed on the CBS schedule, Twentieth had to give up part of its ownership position to make it happen.

Managing in that new environment is Twentieth Century Fox's Grushow, who, by title, is chairman of FOX Television Entertainment Group. This is his sandbox, and it's a nice one. He works out of a lavish office on the fifth floor of News Corp.'s Los Angeles headquarters, overlooking Fox's film and television studios. The office has a stunning view and a notable former occupant: News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch's son Lachlan.

Grushow's big-name studio is now home to some of today's top shows, like The X-Files, The Practice and Ally McBeal. It also inked some of the richest overall development deals in Hollywood, with multimillion dollar writer/producers like David E. Kelley, Chris Carter, Joss Whedon and even Titanic director James Cameron under its banner.

And these shows work. At last year's Emmy Awards, the studio took home statuettes for best drama (The Practice) and best comedy series (Ally McBeal). This year, Twentieth Century FOX will have 12 series on co-owned FOX Broadcasting Co.-another record for the studio.

It may wind up with as many as five more series added to Fox's midseason lineup.

Meanwhile, at FOX TV Studios

At the other end of the spectrum is three-year old FOX TV Studios, whose offices are tucked away in the back of the FOX lot. Originally designed to operate like a record company, the studio has various "pods" producing content. It's got the deliberate feel of an up-start, no-frills Hollywood studio, and there David Grant keeps an office in a rustic-looking building coined The Bungalow.

Officially, FOX TV Studios, according to the company, is "an incubator for independent and entrepreneurial production companies." That means that FtvS is creating network, cable and, increasingly, Internet content with low-cost budgets and creative, quirky content. FOX TV Studios' pod Regency TV has turned out hits like Malcolm in the Middle and Roswell, while its other high-flying unit, Greenblatt-Janollari's The Hughleys, is now positioned for syndication and gets a new home this fall on UPN.

Other pods, including FtvS Productions, produce endless hours of original programming for co-owned cable channels FX, FOX Sports Net, FOX Family Channel and National Geographic Channel. In all, FOX TV Studios will produce just under 300 hours of television during the 1999-2000 season, and it's expected to easily exceed that mark next season.

Getting along

"There is something to be said for their world," says Grushow of Grant's FOX TV Studios. "Is it a different world? Yeah, it is. Obviously, there is a difference between running a studio that's been around for a long time and that is a major television supplier with some of the top names in the business calling it home. He is in the business of doing lower-cost programming across a variety of platforms, and I don't think he wants to be sitting in a big office where he has either talent or their representatives thinking big in terms of deals."

Grushow and Grant share a common history. They both returned to FOX in 1997, after two-year stints at short-lived TeleTV, a failed programming and new-media venture started by several major phone companies and Creative Artists Agency. Grushow was president of TeleTV from 1995-1997, while Grant served as the company's chief operating officer. Prior to that, Grushow had been Fox's entertainment president, and Grant had been the network's executive vice president of business operations.

"Both Sandy and I really started our careers at Fox," says Grant, who also helped parent company News Corp. launch BskyB in England, acquire Star TV in Asia and build the company's home-video business. "With the exception of two years, we've been here together a long time. We were partners at TeleTV under very difficult circumstances, and I feel like I know him as well as I know anybody in this business."

As for FOX TV Studios and Twentieth Century FOX working together, Grant says, "We were originally designed to complement Twentieth, and I think we are doing just that. We are generally not in the business of making big overall deals with writers and producers. That's not our business. That's their job. We are here to do things differently, produce shows that are not the same and to zig when they zag."

The two divisions are not only complementing each other, they are actually working together as well. Regency and Twentieth Century FOX teamed up last year to produce sci-fi series Roswell for The WB, and the two entities got together again this season for Fox's Fearsum.

"I know this might sound namby-pamby, but Roswell was truly an example of how these companies can work together, compete against each other and be allies all at the same time," says outgoing Regency TV President Gail Berman, who last week was named the new entertainment president at FOX. (See Top of the Week.)

"Regency and FOX TV Studios in general have just sort of fit right in with what they are trying to do at Twentieth Century FOX and FOX Broadcasting," says Berman. "I think this is an unusual model, but I also think what we are doing here is the wave of the future. We are bringing entrepreneurship back into the television business, but also doing it with a safety net of sorts from within the vertically integrated company."

Berman's Regency TV division has been enough of a success since it was launched two years ago that Berman was the first and only name mentioned to replace former FOX Entertainment President Doug Herzog when he was ousted earlier this year.

Berman along with the other top producers and executives at FtvS have a good relationship with the two new co-presidents at Twentieth Century FOX, Gary Newman and Dana Walden. Walden and Newman were named studio presidents when Grushow was promoted to oversee both the studio and network last December.

"Whenever we hear a pitch for something that seems appropriate for FOX TV Studios, we call Dave or [FtvS executive vice president] Lisa Berger right away to make sure they have every opportunity to get those projects before competing outside studios do," says Twentieth's Walden. "And with Regency and Greenblatt-Janollari, we have fantastic relationships. If they have a writer or a producer that matches up with a piece of talent or script that we have, or vice versa, we try and develop together. It's literally a blue print for how this should work. While we are competitors, we are also friends and allies."

A star is born

The initial idea for Fox TV Studios came out of a meeting between News Corp. President Peter Chernin and Grant in 1996. Both Grushow and Grant were talking to Chernin about returning to the Fox family, but on different terms. While Grushow was setting up the final part of his contract to take over the reins at Twentieth, Grant talked of an idea for something different, something that could help provide content for Fox's cable channels.

"I would say honestly that we came to the idea mutually," says Grant of the creation of Fox TV Studios. "Peter and I both had similar ideas. I'd have to say he really saw its value in network television, and I always saw its value in other forms of TV, because I realized that News Corp. was not a big content creator in areas outside of network television."

At about the same time, Chernin was talking with former Fox programming executive Robert Greenblatt about opening up his own production company with his partner David Janollari, who also had worked at Fox and was then working at Warner Bros.

"Peter told us that he would love to set us up with our own autonomous company here at Fox," says Greenblatt. "But we very much wanted to do it outside of the already established Twentieth Century Fox unit, because it was already so big and it had so many big mega-producers. We figured we might get lost in the process over there. So when David Grant came back, Peter thought it would be great to put us all together."

In August of 1997, Fox TV Studios was founded and its first wholly owned subsidiary was The Greenblatt-Janollari Studio. They got the studio off to a fast start, launching three new shows in the fall of 1998, The Hughleys at ABC and Maggie Winters and To Have and To Hold at CBS. The latter two failed to make it through the 1998-1999 season, but The Hughleys remained at ABC for two seasons and moves to UPN's Monday-night slate this fall.

Things work closer to the edge at Fox TV Studios, by design. Grant hired former Fox executives and found production people who knew how to get the most out of every dollar.

They push the envelope. Berger, who had been running MTV's original programming development for several years, was hired to run an alternative studio tabbed Fox TV Studios Productions, and Marci Pool was wooed from cable's TNT to head a movies and miniseries division. Grant also signed development deals with unknown producers and writers looking for the safety net of a studio-but also establishing their own independent units.

And what's so hot about working there? "You get an infrastructure that includes all of the financing that you need for good projects, the relationships that people have here with Fox Broadcasting and Twentieth Century Fox and all of the other companies we have here on the lot," says Grant.

"In other words, you get the benefit of being in-house, treated like you are in-house in terms of services and working relationships, and you get the infrastructure that has all of the physical production people, all of the accounting people and behind-the-scenes stuff. With me you get someone who really enjoys letting people produce and you get most importantly, a non-corporate environment inside a big corporation."

With Fox's growth in cable television, Fox TV Studios' timing could not have been better. The growth of FX, Fox Sports Net, Fox Family Channel and the companies' interest in various channels, including National Geographic Channel, has meant production and more production for Grant's little studio. Berger's FtvS Productions has been the busiest pod of them all. She jokes it should be renamed "Because You Can Studios."

FtvS Productions currently produces Howard Stern's new comedy on FX Son of the Beach, along with FX's The X-Show, Fox Sports Net's Sports Geniuses and other cable shows. FtvS Productions had a pair of reality series in development at Fox Broadcasting this spring and also a reality series coined The Big House at UPN. Berger is also setting up a unit that will focus only on reality programming.

The past season has been a breakout year for Regency, too. Besides Roswell, it launched midseason hit Malcolm in the Middle on Fox. Next season, Twentieth and Regency are co-producing Fearsum, and NBC picked up the studio's newest comedy, Tucker.

Also under the Fox TV Studios banner is FtvS Movies, Fox Foundry, FtvS International, Foxstar and its international unit, Natural History New Zealand.

Building on an idea

Grushow left his position as president of Twentieth Century Fox Television late last year to be the fireman at the company's struggling network. No stranger to FBC's needs, Grushow, who had been successfully running the studio for the past three years, ran the network's programming division from December 1992 to October 1994. When he went back to the network, Walden and Newman moved in at Twentieth.

"I think it's been left in really good hands between Dana and Gary, and that has been extremely helpful, ''he says. "I think it would have been hard to cut the cord completely, but I don't feel like I've left. I talk to Gary and Dana on a slow day like five times, and I'm certainly plugged into what they've got."

Walden had formerly run the drama development at Twentieth, overseeing everything from Ally McBeal to The X-Files for the studio. Newman was Grushow's top strategic executive and No. 2 in charge, helping orchestrate many of Twentieth's large deals.

"It's been an almost seamless transition," says Walden, who is expecting her first child this month. "Gary and I had worked with Sandy for almost three years at Twentieth, and we had very much been a part of the management team. I think it was both comforting to the people at the studio and to our writers and to the community in general that it wasn't going to be a radical change from what had been clearly a successful run over the last three years."

Twentieth Century Fox this fall builds on a base it developed a season ago. New shows from Twentieth Century Fox at co-owned Fox Broadcasting include Kelley's latest project Boston Public, Cameron's sci-fi thriller Dark Angel and a midseason X-Files spin-off from Carter called The Lone Gunmen.

Outside of Fox, the studio returned The Practice, Dharma & Greg and Two Guys and a Girl at ABC, launched new sitcom Yes, Dear, got a sophomore season for Judging Amy at CBS and got fall orders for three veteran series at The WB, including Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.

Twentieth Century Fox produced 13 pilots alone for Fox this spring, another record for the studio. And now with Grushow running both the network and the studio, a lot of people in Hollywood expect the funnel from Twentieth to FBC to be more open than it has been in the past. Grushow denies that and says this year's record amount of development had more to do with Fox's rotten season than his new position.

"As much skepticism as there is surrounding this issue, the Fox Broadcasting Co. is at a point where we have to be doing what's in the best interest of the network and not necessarily what's in the best interest of its production arms," says Grushow. "It just so happens that we are fortunate enough to have producers like David Kelley, Chris Carter and Jim Cameron who are creating shows through the studio, which makes it really hard to ignore Twentieth."

Fox also picked up shows from Carsey-Werner, ATG, Columbia TriStar and Warner Bros. for next season.

Twentieth Century Fox TV's 1999 success didn't start overnight. A year before Grushow was named president at Twentieth, the studio went on an all-out spending spree in an effort to recruit Hollywood talent. In 1996, under former Twentieth president and current Warner Bros. head Peter Roth, the studio signed producers Chuck Lorre, Danny Jacobson, Joss Whedon and many others. Out of those deals came Dharma & Greg (Lorre), Two Guys and a Girl (Jacobson) and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Angel (Whedon). Also, four of Twentieth's shows that debuted in fall 1999-The WB's Roswell and Angel, Fox's Titus and CBS' Judging Amy-came out of the studio's earlier push.

Clearly, the combination of big and small studios helps Twentieth, and Grant believes in an era of rapid consolidation, the Fox way is the way to go "I think all of the media giants will do this format," says Grant. "It makes a lot of sense when you have so many different outlets-cable, network and whatever else-under one flag. But like everything else, it's deceptively hard to do it well."

March