Studio heads have a direct pipeline to network, but pledge not to abuse it
Dana Walden and Gary Newman’s new role as the leaders of Fox Broadcasting means they’ll be in a position to greenlight shows produced by 20th Century Fox Television — the studio they co-chair.
It might seem like a conflict of interest, but they promise not to abuse their power by favoring Fox shows over those produced by other studios.
“The best shows are going to win,” Walden said on a Monday conference call.
There is one exception, she said: When two shows are equally good, she and Newman will choose the one their studio created, due to financial incentives.
There’s plenty of precedent for a studio head to simultaneously run a network: Sandy Grushow headed both the Fox network and Fox studios from 1999 to 2003, and NBC’s Bob Greenblatt and ABC’s Paul Lee oversee both their networks and studios today.
Grushow said Walden and Newman’s appointment is no cause for alarm.
NBC and ABC don’t draw solely from their own studios’ shows: ABC’s biggest hit is “Modern Family,” a show produced by Walden and Newman’s studio. 20th Century Fox Television’s other hits include “How I Met Your Mother,” which aired on CBS, as well as a slew of Fox shows including “24,” “The Simpsons,” “Bones,” “Family Guy” and “New Girl.”
The number of 2oth Century Fox shows on the Fox Broadcasting Company surely demonstrates some corporate synergy for 21st Century Fox, the parent company of the studio and network. But Fox doesn’t draw solely on its company’s studio any more than its rival networks do: Its shows include “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Mindy Project” from NBCUniversal’s Universal Television.
Grushow said Walden and Newman clearly understand the importance of selling shows to other networks.
“‘Modern Family’ and ‘How I Met Your Mother’ have helped to drive the bottom line at that studio for the last 5 to 7 years,” he said.
Choosing what shows to air is only one of the decisions Walden and Newman are now in a position to make. They can also shape the fate of “American Idol,” a former behemoth that is well past its ratings prime. Fox spent nearly a decade as the top network in they key 18-49 demographic thanks to “Idol.”
Grushow, who is developing a show now at 20th, said there’s no reason to think Walden and Newman will jettison a reality series like “Idol” simply because they have more experience with scripted shows.
“I don’t think that just because they’re from a scripted background their conceit is going to be to put a bullet in anything that’s unscripted and not at the height of its glory,” he said.
Walden and Newman declined to discuss any programming decisions Monday, but said they welcome the chance to work in unscripted TV.
“I’m incredibly excited to work in reality,” Walden said. “That’s not a genre the studio has worked in a while.”
This past season, Fox, bolstered by the Super Bowl, was No. 2 in the demo behind NBC. NBC was the only network to gain in the demo last season, and only Fox was flat. ABC and CBS both declined.
Fox was fourth in total viewers, but can take some consolation in the fact that it and NBC were the only networks to gain. Despite the decline, CBS was top-ranked in total viewers. NBC was second, and ABC third.
Fox tends to have fewer total viewers in part because it airs only two hours most nights, compared to three for its rivals.
Tony Maglio contributed to this report.