In restructuring its television operations, 21st Century Fox is hoping to create one big happy family that will put more hits on the Fox network while continuing to make shows for rival networks as well.
The new unit, dubbed Fox Television Group, will be composed of both Fox Broadcasting Co. and 20th Century Fox Television. Dana Walden and Gary Newman, the co-chairs of 20th Century Fox Television, will now also have oversight over Fox Broadcasting.
“As we look to the future of the broadcast television business, it is clear that the best path forward is to operate our creative and broadcast divisions under the leadership of a single team,” said Chase Carey, president and chief operating officer of 21st Century Fox.
Driving the decision to consolidate the units is a desire of 21st Century Fox to not only get more of the studio’s shows on the network’s schedule, but also to provide a new creative vision. Fox has struggled to develop new hits as of late and in May, Kevin Reilly resigned as the network’s chairman of entertainment.
Walden and Newman have run 20th Century Fox Television together for about 15 years. During that time, the studio has made hits for everyone including ABC (“Modern Family”) and CBS (“How I Met Your Mother.” Shows the studio produces for Fox include “The Simpsons,” “Glee” and “Sleepy Hollow,” which was one of the few bright spots on the Fox network last season.
Newman came up on the business side of the studio while Walden started out in public relations before moving into programming. Newman has been seen as the deal maker while Walden has focused on the creative aspects of production.
In a joint interview, the pair said there are no immediate plans to overhaul the management at Fox Broadcasting.
“We don’t intend to do anything rashly,” Newman said. Walden praised Joe Earley, the network’s chief operating officer and a longtime Fox executive, saying, “He has been doing a fantastic job.”
Fox is coming off a season in which it endured a steep drop in both viewers and the demographic of adult viewers ages 18 to 49 that advertisers covet. The network is scheduled to premiere 12 new shows next season; it kept only two shows from the season that just ended.
Relations between the network and studio have often been frosty. The studio did not place any shows on Fox’s fall schedule. Walden said any past tensions between the two units is “water under the bridge now.”
Newman and Walden stressed that just because they are now over the Fox network that doesn’t mean they will look to fill the entire schedule with shows from 20th Century Fox Television and will continue to buy shows from other studios.
“The best shows are going to win,” Newman said.
The new arrangement at Fox is similar to how ABC, CBS and NBC already run their television network and studio operations. Fox also had unified the units in the late 1990s under one executive but split them apart again when that executive -- Sandy Grushow -- left.
Grushow, who now runs the advisory firm Phase II Media, said the biggest challenge Newman and Walden will face will not be external but internal as 21st Century Fox Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch still has a keen interest in the operations of the network.
“Historically, Rupert has left the television studio alone,” Grushow said. “I only started getting 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. visits from him once I was asked to assume responsibility for the broadcast network. He cared deeply about how Fox performed on a daily basis.”
Walden and Newman are not the only ones getting additional turf. The Fox Television Group will report to Peter Rice, chairman of the Fox Networks Group. Rice, who already was over Fox Broadcasting’s and 21st Century Fox’s vast array of cable networks including FX and Fox Sports 1, now has control of all the TV operations with the exception of the Fox News unit and the local TV stations.
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.