Pasadena, Calif. -- Midway through their first season running Fox Broadcasting, Dana Walden and Gary Newman are looking to the network’s past as they attempt to rebuild the broadcaster’s brand. The Fox Television Group chairmen and CEOs confirmed Saturday that they are in talks with the creators of 24 and The X-Files about bringing those franchises back as limited series, that they have had discussions with former American Idol judge and X-Factor producer Simon Cowell about returning to the network, and that they would be open to reviving Prison Break.
“I think Fox for a long time has had a reputation for big, bold shows, some things that break out, but that also feel broad and appealing,” Walden said at the TCA winter press tour. “I guess I would hope ultimately that the network is recognized for great showmanship.”
Walden and Newman appeared together Saturday in their first TCA press tour executive session. In July, the two longtime studio chiefs were promoted, adding the broadcast network to their purview while maintaining oversight of the company’s studio.
Walden acknowledged that the job comes with risk.
“The question we are asked most often is why on earth would you take this job at this point in the broadcast history,” said Walden. But running the network gave Walden and Newman “the opportunity to meaningfully control our own destinies,” and the destinies of their shows. “We worked hard on these shows, we would deliver them, and essentially then we would have to walk away. We had no say in the scheduling, marketing, programming and platforming of our shows, and frankly that got a little bit frustrating. So being in a position now to meaningfully affect those decisions has been really gratifying.”
She cited as an example, Empire, produced by the studio under Walden and Newman, but ordered by the network and scheduled for midseason under previous entertainment chief Kevin Reilly. The show received a huge marketing push from the network ahead of its premiere, and drew a 4.0 Nielsen live-plus-same day rating for its second episode Wednesday, the highest for a broadcast drama this season. It was renewed Saturday along with Gotham and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
“Would Empire have been the priority if we weren’t here?” Walden said. “I’m not really sure.”
Newman acknowledged that he and Walden “are well aware that we’re a fourth-place network.” As they outlined their vision for rebuilding, they talked about several creators important to the network’s past.
Fox already ordered upcoming series Scream Queens from Glee creator Ryan Murphy—whom Newman said was he and Walden’s “very first call” when they took the network job. Newman also said that Fox is “in discussion with the creative team” behind 24 about doing another installment of the franchise, which ended as an ongoing series in 2010 and returned in 2014 as a miniseries: 24: Live Another Day. Speaking to reporters after the session, Walden said that a new installment could appear in 2016. She added that star Kiefer Sutherland may not participate. “Potentially he won’t be in this installment. We’re not sure yet. We’re not that far along. But I know he supports as doing more 24.”
Newman praised Cowell as someone “who has a reputation for being able to find stars and is a tremendous talent magnet” and said that he and Walden have been meeting with the producer and former Idol judge, but offered no specifics about a possible project. “We like Simon very much and we’d like to be in business with him.”
Newman also said, “I think it’s been reported and it’s true that we’ve had some conversations on X-Files and we’re hopeful on being able to bring that back at some point.” He also said that speculation about Prison Break returning to the network “was slightly news to us,” but, he added, “We’ve made it clear over the years at the studio that we would bring Prison Break back in a heartbeat. It’s probably the perfect event series. So if our old partners in that show are interested, that would be great."
Other highlights from the session included:
• Newman and Walden were asked about actor Terrence Howard, who has faced multiple accusations of violence toward women and been the subject of two restraining orders, and whether his history was considered when he was cast in Empire and upcoming miniseries Wayward Pines. “We’ve been working with Terrence now for just about a year, and it’s been just a fantastic experience,” Walden said. “He’s a leader among that cast. He’s been so hard working, and he’s just been a great partner to us.” She added that she and Newman did not become aware of the accusations against the actor until December—despite their having been widely reported by outlets such as Gawker and The Smoking Gun for years. “It wasn’t part of the conversation when we cast him.”
• Walden addressed the exit of reality chief Simon Andreae, announced Friday along with the hiring of new executive VP, alternative entertainment, Corie Henson. Walden signaled that, in the wake of the failure the network will shift its reality brand to a more family-friendly direction. “I would look at MasterChef Junior just tonally and as an idea of the types of shows in that genre that we’re hoping to populate our schedule with.