20th Century Fox TV chiefs Walden, Newman to helm Fox network

Los Angeles TimesJuly 13, 2014 

— Fox Broadcasting is getting new leadership.

The network, coming off a disappointing season, will be overseen by Gary Newman and Dana Walden, the co-chairmen of 20th Century Fox Television, the television production unit of 21st Century Fox, people familiar with the matter said. An announcement of the anticipated restructuring could happen as early as this week.

Newman and Walden would essentially be filling the void left by the surprise departure of Kevin Reilly as chairman of entertainment for Fox at the end of May. The duo, who have overseen 20th Century Fox Television for about 15 years, will continue in that role as well.

Reilly's departure came just weeks after Fox had unveiled its fall schedule to advertisers, and the timing raised concerns about the lineup. Those questions, combined with a significant drop in ratings last season, led senior management at 21st Century Fox to reassess the operating structure of the network within the larger company.

A Fox spokeswoman declined to comment.

Walden and Newman are viewed as two of 21st Century Fox's top executive talents. Among the shows that 20th Century Fox Television makes are the ABC hit "Modern Family" and Fox's long-running cartoon hit "The Simpsons." The studio also produced "How I Met Your Mother" for CBS, which ended its run last season, along with Fox's "Sleepy Hollow," which was one of the network's few bright spots last season.

Although both Fox Broadcasting and 20th Century Fox are part of the same parent company, the relationship between the units has often been strained. This fall, there are no new shows on Fox's schedule from 20th Century Fox Television.

The decision to put the Fox network and the TV studio in the same unit will likely remove some of the tensions that existed when they were run separately. It is also similar to how rival networks CBS, NBC and ABC operate their networks and studio units.

Twentieth Century Fox Television has been one of the largest suppliers of shows to networks other than Fox. Now that it has oversight over the network, it may make producers reluctant to shop shows to the studio that are not ideal for Fox, a senior executive acknowledged.

It is unlikely that viewers will notice a shift in Fox's programming strategy as a result of the new leadership in the near term. The network has already announced its fall shows.

Going forward, though, there may be an emphasis on creating shows that have broader appeal than the type Reilly had championed, particularly with regards to comedy. Both "New Girl" and "The Mindy Project" were renewed despite less than spectacular ratings.

Other challenges the pair will face will be how to revitalize "American Idol," which has slumped badly in recent years. Another musical talent show Fox had high hopes for - "The X Factor" - was canceled this year after three seasons.

Whether Walden and Newman make additional changes in the leadership at Fox Broadcasting remains to be seen. Since Reilly's departure, day-to-day operations have been handled by Peter Rice, chairman and chief executive of the Fox Networks Group, and Joe Early, chief operating officer of Fox Broadcasting, who is well liked and has spent 20 years at the network in a variety of senior positions.

As part of the new structure, Walden and Newman are now expected to report to Rice.

Previously, Walden and Newman had reported to 21st Century Fox President and Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey, the No. 2 executive under Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch. The restructuring represents even more territory being given to Rice, who reports to James Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer for 21st Century Fox.

Carey continues to have plenty on his plate, but his latest contract, signed last month, runs for only two years, with an exit window at the end of 2015. He has been working closely with the younger Murdoch, who has been assuming greater responsibility at the media conglomerate in the last two years.

The shifting of the network to Walden and Newman is the second major TV move Rice has made this month. Last week, he signed a production deal with Gail Berman, a former Fox Broadcasting entertainment chief, to create shows for the network and its cable channels, including FX and FXX.

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