21st Century Fox tapped 20th Century Fox Television chiefs Dana Walden and Gary Newman on Monday to head Fox Broadcasting. As chairmen and CEOs of the newly minted unit Fox Television Group, the two will continue to be responsible for the company’s studio operations, which they have led for 15 years.
Walden and Newman will begin their new roles July 28, reporting to Peter Rice, chairman of Fox Networks Group.
The announcement comes eight weeks after the network announced that Kevin Reilly would step down from his role as chairman of Fox Broadcasting.
Word of Reilly’s departure came fewer than two weeks before the end of a season that saw Fox finish second among the Big Four broadcasters with an average 2.5 Nielsen rating among adults 18-49 in primetime. From Jan. 1 to June 30, the net fell to fourth place in the demo, hurt in part by the quick burnoff of limited episodes of new hit Sleepy Hollow. The seasonal demo number, boosted by Fox’s February Super Bowl broadcast, was even with the network’s average rating from the Super Bowl-free 2012-13 season. The 2012-13 performance ended an eight-season run by Fox as the top network in the demo, one that began prior to Reilly’s arrival.
The tail end of Reilly’s tenure was marked by the dramatic ratings decline of American Idol, long the bulwark that held the network above all competitors in the numbers race. Ratings for the show have declined every season since Reilly’s first, with a steep drop off in recent years. Idol finished the 2010-11 season with an average 7.5 demo rating and 23.1 million viewers. In 2013-14, the series averaged a 2.6 and 10.2 million total viewers.
Fox’s studio operations, by contrast, have been a boon to the company in recent years, producing hits such as ABC’s Modern Family and, more recently, Sleepy Hollow. Under Walden and Newman, 20th Century Fox Television, Fox Television Studios and Fox 21 combined to earn the second most Primetime Emmy Award nominations last week with 44, behind only HBO Entertainment and HBO Films.
In a conference call with reporters Monday morning, Walden and Newman indicated that 20th Century Fox Television business operations president Howard Kurtzman and creative affairs president Jonnie Davis would soon take greater responsibility for the day-to-day management of the studio.
Walden and Newman also said that they will not begin any restructuring at Fox Broadcasting until after they officially take their new posts. Rice intends to preside over the network’s July 20 presentation at TCA’s summer press tour, representing the network at the planned executive session.
Newman and Walden expressed support for Earley, who in March was given oversight of current programming and development at the network. Walden said Earley “has been doing a fantastic job at the network, and we all have great relationships with him.”
Asked if the network would specialize in any one particular type of programming, Newman said, “We intend to be supporting every genre of programming, whether it’s comedy, drama, reality, event series, and we’re going to encourage the tent to be as broad as possible.”
Under former Fox Entertainment chairman Sandy Grushow, who departed the company a decade ago, Fox had a structure in which the network and studio were connected in a way similar to how they will be under Walden and Newman. That structure was changed following Grushow’s departure.
“That was a very long time ago, particularly long in terms of television era and how these companies operate,” Walden said. “At the point when Sandy was over both of these organizations, the studio was producing exclusively for broadcast networks and there were four of them. This past year, we’ve produced for 16 different platforms.”
Walden and Newman, who were inducted into the B&C Hall of Fame in 2013, inherit a network that has been trending downward, but also one that had recently experimented with disrupting traditional development models. Reilly, long a critic of the pilot-season process, announced at the TCA winter press tour in January that the network would be “bypassing it” going forward.
“We are in sort of that transitional year where we are willing all of it to happen, the deconstruction of pilot season,” Fox Broadcasting COO Joe Earley told B&C less than a month before the network’s May upfront presentation. News of Reilly’s departure came two weeks after that upfront presentation, in which he touted the first new fall lineup developed under a model that relied more heavily on straight to series orders. It is not known yet whether Walden and Newman will maintain the same level of commitment to upending the development process that Reilly so publically engaged in.
In a memo sent Monday morning to the staffs of the network and studios, Newman wrote, “In this incredibly dynamic television landscape, uniting these two companies under one management will foster more successful collaboration among our executives and create greater paths to success for our creative partners. We are humbled by the challenge, energized by the opportunities and emboldened by the fact that we'll be joined by such talented executives on both sides of the organization.”
Fox now becomes the third of the Big Four broadcasters to have a network programming chief also maintain oversight of the company’s studio operation. Only CBS keeps the two businesses separate.