THIS STORY WAS CORRECTED ON AUG. 24, 2009.
In 2007, executives at News Corp. faced a daunting task with their Fox Television Studios division. It was lacking focus, acquiring production companies from all over the world, with tentacles in areas where it wasn't delivering results.
To try to change the atmosphere at the studio, News Corp. executives knew they wanted an outsider, someone with business savvy but also with a perspective that was missing from the division.
“The reason I started Fox Television Studios was that I wanted a different perspective on production,” recalls Peter Chernin, who left his role as president and COO of News Corp. in July. “I wanted someone to think non-traditionally, with different models, different financial models, different kinds of creative people to be working with.”
That search led them halfway around the world, where they tapped Emiliano Calemzuk, then president of Fox International Channels Europe, to return stateside and take over the studio. He immediately shifted the focus of the company's unscripted efforts to concentrate on fewer projects. At the same time he began building up the company's cable wing and boosting international co-productions.
“What we did was to streamline a lot of the infrastructure to take the studio to a financially sound position,” Calemzuk says.
Two years after he took over, the studio has found its groove. It added new reality hit in E!'s Kendra, which sprang from the companies' already successful The Girls Next Door, and has a slate of international co-productions, including ABC's Defying Gravity and Fox's Mental.
While he has been busy trying to redefine FTvS, as insiders at News Corp. call the studio, Calemzuk has made it his priority to expand its global reach. Co-productions with overseas television networks are at the heart of that strategy. Every March, Calemzuk and his production partners from around the world have a confab in Los Angeles, where they can give input into projects FTvS has in development.
“That was one of the lessons learned as an international broadcaster,” Calemzuk says. “The international broadcasters pony up a big chunk of money, yet they have no say or participation in the process. If the series gets canceled in the U.S., they suffer, because they spent marketing money and scheduled the show.”
International co-productions could also keep projects alive that otherwise may not make it, as they reduce FTvS's investment. Earlier this month, TNT announced that Saving Grace, which FTvS produces, will see its fourth and final season next summer. Sources say the move was FTvS' call after Calemzuk's group determined that the show would no longer be financially viable.
The co-production strategy has a personal resonance with Calemzuk, who has spent much of his career building international channels from the ground up. Born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, Calemzuk went to college at the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied at the Wharton School of Business and the Annenberg School for Communication and worked at UTV, the college television station.
He moved to Miami after graduation and worked for former Telemundo executive Bob Behar before going to help launch Latin American music channel HTV.
In 1998, he joined Fox Latin America's marketing and promotions department, eventually moving up to oversee all of Fox's Latin American channels. In 2002, he moved to Rome to take over Fox's European channels.
“Somehow these different people in these different jobs—programming, marketing, operations—he would keep them at an energy level so that late Friday night they all collapsed but were ready with their espresso shots on Monday morning,” says Anthea Disney, executive VP of content at News Corp., recalling Calemzuk's work in Europe. “He is a tour de force.”
The energy that he brought to Fox International Channels in Europe has been crucial to rejuvenating FTvS. In addition to the international co-productions, Calemzuk recently spearheaded the launch of a new digital brand, 15 Gigs, that serves as a development platform for talent and concepts.
“It is satisfying on one end, but I don't think we have started to scratch the surface,” Calemzuk says. “We are nowhere near where I think we could be.”
Experimenting with new ways to revamp the development process is at the heart of his plan to continue to grow FTvS—a plan not lost on top-level executives at News Corp.
As Chernin says: “He is looking at how you reinvent the model for producing quality content.”