When Ryan Murphy, an edgy producer for 21st Century Fox’s TV studio, heard that his longtime employer was being acquired by Walt Disney Co., he was surprised and a bit anxious.
“I got a call from [Disney Chief Executive] Bob Iger and I said point blank, ‘The stuff that I do is not specifically Disney and I’m concerned about that,’” Murphy said Thursday at the Television Critics Assn. winter press tour in Pasadena. “‘Am I going to have to put Mickey Mouse in “American Horror Story”’?”
Murphy said Iger assured him that wouldn’t be the case. But the question reflects the atmosphere of uncertainty that has enveloped the TV operation of 21st Century Fox which, along with the company’s movie studio, is being sold to Disney for $52.4 billion.
The deal has raised questions about the future of the Fox broadcast network and how its boundary-pushing programming will mesh with Disney’s brand of family-friendly entertainment.
Fox Television Group co-chairs Dana Walden and Gary Newman sought to quell those concerns during their TCA session. They said they will take a “business as usual” approach to running the broadcast network and the production studio over the next year to 18 months as the deal undergoes regulatory scrutiny and is finalized. They offered no immediate insights on their futures or what their roles will be once the studio becomes part of the Disney empire, which they admitted has led to nervousness among the stable of writer-producers on the studio lot in Century City.
“We have a lot of writers who have been with us for 10, 15, 20 years and a couple even longer than that and so there is anxiety about what our management is going to be 12 to 18 months in the future,” Newman said. “My guess is many people will continue with the company once it moves to Disney. But, in fairness, we can’t guarantee to people who is going to be there and who is not going to be there.”
Walden said she was shocked when the Disney deal was announced Dec. 14, but understood it after speaking with 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his sons. The Murdochs are forming a new Fox company made up of the Fox News Channel, Fox Sports, the broadcast network and owned TV stations.
Walden, who has been rumored to be a candidate for Amazon’s TV production operation and other positions, said no decision has been made about her future at Fox, where she has worked for 26 years.
“I’m very focused on the work that we’re doing right now at the company,” she said.
Newman noted that Disney is home to a lot of adult-oriented shows.
“Even Disney has labels that are producing edgier content,” he said. “Bob Iger was pretty clear … when he spoke with us that he loves our brand. He’s excited about FX and the FX brand. He likes that as a production company we are producing 36 series that range from shows that work on pay cable and streaming and others that are more mainstream. I think there is room for many different types of programs once the company moves to Disney.”
For years Disney has produced shows created by Shonda Rhimes for ABC, which were never shy about tackling hot-button issues or presenting frank depictions of sexuality. Rhimes recently departed Disney for a lucrative production deal from Netflix.
Another streaming service, Hulu, could play a pivotal role in Disney’s plans. Disney’s acquisition of Fox would give it controlling interest in Hulu, which would serve as the destination for more grown-up shows and movies, Iger has told analysts.
Murphy said he was encouraged that companies such as Pixar and Marvel were able to maintain their personalities after they were sold to Disney. But he is still absorbing the prospect of having a new creative home after being nurtured at Fox since 2003.
“Three months ago I thought I would be buried on the Fox lot,” Murphy said. “I was very not prepared for what happened.”
Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Fox’s long-running hit “Family Guy,” said during his TCA session that he is not concerned about Disney altering the tenor of his often outrageous animated series.
“By buying Fox they bought all the franchises as well and I think that’s where the value is,” MacFarlane said. “I don’t really expect anything to change all that much.”
Iger also reached out to MacFarlane after the deal was announced.