FOX shakeup: 20th Century Fox TV chiefs take over newly named Fox Television Group

Confirming weekend rumors, 21st Century Fox announced on Monday (July 14) morning that 20th Century Fox TV heads Dana Walden and Gary Newman are set to oversee Fox Television Group, a new entity combining both the FOX network (Fox Broadcasting Company – FBC) and 20th Century FOX TV (TCFTV).

The official announcement says that “FBC and TCFTV will continue to operate as independent entities, but will share financial and creative goals,” with Walden and Newman leading. 

Newman and Walden's ascension marks a major piece of restructuring at 21st Century Fox, as neither will be replacing Kevin Reilly, who announced his departure as FOX entertainment chairman at the end of May. In a conference call subsequent to the announcement, Walden and Newman said that there were no plans to place a new executive in that Reilly position. 

As it stands, as Chairmen and CEOs for Fox Television Group, both Walden and Newman will report to Peter Rice, Chairman of Fox Networks Group. Fox Television Group will be a division of Fox Network Groups, which also includes 21st Century Fox”s domestic entertainment, sports and non-fiction channels, as well as Fox International Channels” collection of more than 300 channels worldwide.

“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, and that Gary and Dana are the perfect executives to take on this new role,” states Chase Carey, President and COO of 21st Century Fox in the initial release. “While TCFTV and FBC will each continue as an open supplier and an open network, respectively, the closer alignment of these two properties, coupled with a unified vision from Dana and Gary, gives us a clear advantage in creating even more hit content that will benefit both businesses. We are incredibly fortunate to have two such accomplished leaders already under our roof to take on these important new roles.”

Adds Rice, “Over the past 15 years, Dana and Gary have raised the bar for the rest of the industry with respect to creative vision, close-knit relationships with top talent and an unmatched track record of hit programming. At a time when the demand for content has never been higher, there is no doubt that we strengthen and galvanize our television business – both from a creative and programming standpoint – with Gary and Dana taking on these vital new leadership roles.”

Walden and Newman were named 20th Century Fox TV presidents in 199 and they extended that title to “chairmen” and then to “chairmen and CEOs.” During their time atop the studio, they've developed or put their fingerprints on many of the FOX network's biggest successes, including “Bones,” “Family Guy,” “Glee,” “Sleepy Hollow” and more. They've also done the same on hits for other networks, including “Modern Family,” “Homeland” and, through the Fox 21 and Fox Television Studios production arms, “Sons of Anarchy,” “Tyrant” and “The Americans.”

“We are grateful to Peter, Chase and James for this extraordinary vote of confidence,” blurb Walden and Newman in the initial statement. “The time is right to unite these divisions. Television has never been more creatively vibrant and the business has never been more dynamic. Our goal is to make FBC the number one destination for creators with big visions and bold ideas, because our guiding principle has always been ‘talent first.” We are humbled by the challenges and exhilarated by the opportunities ahead. It”s an exciting time.”

Almost immediately after the release went out, Walden and Newman held a conference call for reporters to flesh out a few details, with Walden proving her commitment by calling in from a vacation in an undisclosed European location.

Walden has, in the past decade, been rumored as a candidate for other network-heading jobs and she clarified what made this opportunity different.

“I have never been interested in working and being the president of a broadcast network that would force me to leave the studio which Gary and I have spent the 15 years building,” Walden said. “I always viewed my job as a fantastic one. I had a tremendous amount of passion for the work that we were doing and it seemed at that point like that was not a challenge that was interesting to me. This opportunity is different. This is an opportunity to help strengthen the network, while preserving and continuing to build on all that we have at the studio and offering our creators, who have become our close friends and long-time partners, the opportunity to have a great experience at FBC and to, again, experience the network development situation that feels great, where they're supported, where the right project finds itself to the right home.”

This was a recurring point on the conference call: FOX will not become a network entirely filled by 20th Century Fox TV shows, at least not anymore than it is already. As we all know, there are advantages for networks in owning many of their shows, but there are also advantages to keeping pipelines open with other studios, since without keeping those pipelines open to Warner Bros. TV or ABC TV Studios, FOX wouldn't have “Gotham” or “Red Band Society” this coming fall. Similarly, being able to get a “Modern Family” on ABC or a “Homeland” on Showtime is good for 20th Century Fox TV.

Walden said that conversations about this new role began almost immediately after Reilly's exit. While she admitted that the exact timing of that announcement surprised them, it led them to conversations with Rice about this possibility and “whether this is in the best interests of both companies.”

“When Kevin resigned from the network, it gave us a perfect opportunity to reassess our structure,” Newman said on the call.

As it stands, Newman and Walden will be keeping their current jobs, while adding not-unambitious responsibilities over a network that has had some struggles in recent seasons after the inevitable decline of “American Idol.” They admitted that they will have to be putting more trust in their 20th Century Fox TV lieutenants, but praised the executive team they've put in place at the studio. They also praised the executive team at FOX, including Joe Earley, who has taken the unlikely journey from publicist to COO over the past 18 years.

Will the dual roles change how they develop and look for shows both for the studio and the network?

“The truth is we're looking for brilliant shows and the more diversified your slate, the better your chance for success,” Newman said.

Walden laid out this initiative's goals simply: “Our objective here is to continue to direct individual pieces of development at the studio to their best possible homes. Sometimes that's going to be FBC. Sometimes that's going to be a third-party network. From the network side, one thing that I do hope… that we can change pretty quickly is being able to attract back to broadcast some of the great creators who have had better experiences in cable and digital. We're hoping to make the experience of development for a broadcast network a fantastic one and one that woos great creators to network television.”

Expect to hear much, much, much more about this transition when FOX joins reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour on July 20.