Fox Chiefs Dana Walden, Gary Newman Talk ‘Empire’ Emmy Snub, Rebuilding Ratings and Why They Canceled ‘Mindy’

TCA 2015: The network’s top executives tell TheWrap that reality slate “is certainly not where we want to be”

Dana Walden, Gary Newman, FOX

Fox co-CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman know their fourth-place network has a long way to go, but the duo believes they’re back on the right track with hits like “Empire” and “The Last Man on Earth.”

“There’s definitely a feeling that we started something last year, that a corner was turned,” Newman told TheWrap’s during an interview at TCAs, agreeing that he and Walden had another “rebuilding year” ahead of them.

The twosome believe that if they just focus on quality of shows, scheduling, launching and marketing — as well as a greater attempt to “eventize” programming — “Ultimately the ratings are going to take care of themselves,” said Walden.

“Empire” is certainly a prime example of that attitude working out with the rookie run of Lee Daniels’ hip-hop soap opera becoming broadcast TV’s top drama in its freshman season. However, the series’ resonance with a massive audience didn’t equal a Best Drama Emmy nomination, which some TV critics certainly saw as an oversight.

Newman told TheWrap he doesn’t classify “Empire” as a snub.”We don’t personalize it that way,” he said.

“I was disappointed that ‘Empire’ didn’t get nominated, that Lee didn’t get nominated for directing or Terrence [Howard] for Lead Actor,” he admitted. “I don’t know if it’s somehow there is some feeling a show that is a commercial successful, that the people who vote for those things just don’t want to give it those sort of accolades.”

“It’s a little bit of an odd result,” Newman said.

Still, it’s probably better to keep the advertisers happy with the impressive Nielsen numbers that “Empire” put up. One critical darling, “The Mindy Project,” saw the opposite result and was recently canceled by Fox after three low-rated seasons.

“Everybody loved that show,” Walden said in our midday Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour sit-down. “There was a lot of passion for it within our organization, but if there were other metrics for us to look at, it probably would have helped give it a chance to succeed.”

“It just wasn’t performing up to a point that we felt we that we could make good business sense out of it anymore,” she added, when we asked if the Universal TV show would have stuck around if her and Newman’s 20th Century Fox studio owned it instead.

Scripted triumphs and tribulations aside, Fox’s real problem is probably reality programming. The network has had quite a few flops this season, most obviously “Utopia” and more recently, “Knock Knock Live.” To be fair, Walden and Newman inherited the first one from their predecessor, Kevin Reilly, now the boss at TBS and TNT.

Walden said that she and partner Newman are “really learning a lot” about reality TV as they go.

“We’re certainly not where we want to be,” she told us. “Our reality brand needs to share some the DNA of our scripted series.”

“They’re original, they feel distinctive,” Walden elaborated on the written fare. “They’re a little bit loud … typically there’s a character at the center of a Fox show — you look at Phil [Miller] (Will Forte) or Cookie [Lyon] (Taraji P. Henson) or House [Hugh Laurie] or Jack Bauer [Kiefer Sutherland] — there’s something at the center that feels distinctly Fox.”