Fox Broadcasting's failure to turn its billion-dollar investment in NFL football into a Sunday night ratings bonanza has tackled its first victim as the network's youthful programming chief, Sandy Grushow, was ousted by Fox Inc. Chairman Rupert Murdoch.
Grushow abruptly left the network Wednesday in what has become one of Hollywood's fastest-revolving executive-suite doors. He was running Fox at a time when Murdoch is trying to elevate it from an upstart fourth network targeting "Clearasil kids" to become a broad-based entertainment giant that will overtake ABC, CBS and NBC.
John Matoian, a Fox film executive and former CBS Entertainment executive, will succeed Grushow in the chief programming post.
Grushow's departure, which had been rumored, underscores Murdoch's idiosyncratic management style that has led to the resignations of several Fox executives since he became more involved with the studio's affairs several years ago.
Ironically, Grushow's exit comes at a time when Fox's ratings appear to be on an uptick. Fox's ratings so far this season have climbed 4% from the same period a year ago, pushed up by such hits as "X-Files" and the network's Tuesday night movie.
However, Fox has had problems. Several aging series such as "Married With Children" and "The Simpsons" have lost steam. More important, a key decision to flip days and time periods for some key shows--moving "Martin" and "Living Single" to Thursday while sliding "The Simpsons" back to Sunday--appears to have misfired.
But the biggest disappointment was Fox's failure to build upon its new Sunday National Football League broadcasts. Though the telecasts themselves have been highly rated, the billion-dollar NFL gambit was also expected to fuel Fox's Sunday night viewing levels.
In fact, "Fortune Hunter," the Fox show that comes on directly following the NFL telecast, embarrassingly turned out to be the lowest-rated show of the week.
Still, several industry executives blamed Grushow's departure more on different operating strategies between him and Murdoch than on any gross programming miscalculation.
"Murdoch pulls the trigger faster than Wild Bill Hickok," said one veteran observer.
Indeed, since 1992, Murdoch's growing presence on the Century City lot has led directly to the departures of former Fox Chairman Barry Diller, former studio chief Joe Roth and two former heads of the Fox network, Jamie Kellner and Lucie Salhany.
Grushow could not be reached for comment Wednesday. A spokesman for Fox declined to comment.
Grushow, 34, joined Fox 11 years ago directly out of UCLA, as an intern in the feature films division. Diller later brought Grushow over to help launch the network's marketing department, and he was eventually named programming head by Kellner.
Grushow, who earns about $500,000 annually, still has two years remaining on a four-year contract.
Some Fox insiders feel that Grushow was never really given the chance to show his mettle at Fox and instead got sidetracked by the company's Darwinian corporate politics.
Shortly after Kellner put Grushow in the programming hot seat, for example, Salhany was named to succeed Kellner, and she became heavily involved in program decision making.
Grushow "was not given the opportunity to run the network from a creative standpoint," one executive said.
Grushow was said to favor adhering to the strengths that made Fox famous: developing shows for the 18-to-35-year-old demographic slice of the audience, exemplified by such shows as "Beverly Hills 90210," "Melrose Place" and "Models Inc."
But Murdoch has wanted to widen the network's demographics to a bigger audience to better compete with ABC, CBS and NBC.
The NFL football contract was the first big step in Fox's attempt to rope in a broader audience beyond its staple teen-and-young-adult viewership.
Matoian, a former senior executive at CBS Entertainment, oversaw that network's prodigious output of TV movies and miniseries.