Amid big expectations for the Batman prequel “Gotham,” the ratings fall for the $50 million reality gamble “Utopia” and the declining live viewership, new Fox Television Group chairmen and CEOs Dana Walden and Gary Newman, who are entering their first fall season in their dual roles, are stressing patience as they hunt for one big hit in their first year, their definition for success.
“We’re not looking at the competition,” Walden told TheWrap. “We want to establish a couple hits. If we come out of this with a bona fide hit, we’ll view that a success. We will rebuild brick by brick.”
Announced in July, about two months after Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly resigned, they kept their oversight of studio 20th Century Fox Television, which they ran for 15 years, and added the broadcast network to their responsibilities later that month.
It would be the first time since Fox has seen the same leadership on the broadcast and studio sides since Sandy Grushow in the late 1990s.
Heading into the fall season, there are questions as to how well the duo will handle their new responsibilities, what parts of Reilly’s reign they’ll continue at the broadcast network and how they plan for more synergy between it and the studio.
TheWrap: You assumed your roles about a month and a half ago. What was the easiest part of that transition and what was the most challenging?
Gary Newman: The easiest part was parking. We didn’t need to change that.
The biggest challenge was the increased volume of work. There have been a lot of people to supervise, content to get your arms around, a large amount of email coming through. In bringing David Madden to the network [as president of entertainment] and expanding Joe Earley [to chief operating officer for Fox Television Group], we’ve seen that volume get more controlled. It’s also great to have Jonnie Davis and Howard Kurtzman and Bert Salke at Fox 21, which sure helps to tame the beast of the job.
What is your biggest priority?
Dana Walden: Our biggest priority is developing hits for FBC. As we stated when we first announced our new roles, we want to attract the greatest creators and restore Fox’s identity as the place where you find the biggest hits. We’re taking a lot of patience and time to identify the shows that can be successful on Fox.
GN: We’re focusing on development. We’re working toward a diversified slate with both in-house and outside partners. And we’re keeping our doors wide open regarding format and genre.
What are you doing differently from before?
DW: One thing is we have one of the biggest content creation companies aligned with the network, which helps with how we’re selecting those projects and what that team delivers. And we’re more involved with the writers. Also, we have put pilots at each of the outside networks and several at FBC. That’s the kind of mix we’re going for.
This fall is really Kevin Reilly’s last one as he greenlit the new series. It’s characterized by ambitious new dramas like “Gotham” and “Gracepoint” and multi-cam comedy “Mulaney.” How would you characterize your fall offerings? Would you change anything?
GN: It’s never just one person’s programs. There’s a considerable staff there aligned with Kevin. He has given great building blocks. “Gotham,” for example, is promising. Awareness is high with “Gotham.” We love “Red Band Society.” It’s a soulful drama that we hope we can break out. “Mulaney” is a fresh comedy. And “Gracepoint” is a beautiful drama.
Not everything is going to work. Monday, for example, is a challenging night for us with “Big Bang Theory,” “The Voice” and ESPN football. But, I think Fox’s fall is something to be excited about.
What are your feelings on “Utopia” and its peformance? (“Utopia” just got a 0.9 last night in the time period debut)
DW: We like the show a lot. It’s an ambitious idea. It’s a show that feels familiar but has a great unconventional twist. There’s an aspirational feel to it. But we launched it really early, maybe before viewers were ready for a new fall show. No one thought we were going to launch a huge ratings juggernaut, but with patience it will grow and we’re going to have patience.
GN: We’ve been telling management that they have to be patient. Networks don’t turn around quickly and the delayed viewing tells a new story. We’re going to look really closely at the three-day, seven-day and even 30-day delayed viewing numbers.
How do you feel about the challenge of declining broadcast and cable ratings and their long term outlook on the health of the TV business?
GN: We have to figure out a way to monetize those viewers. More people are watching broadcast now than in years before, but they just have more platforms to watch it in delayed viewing. That’s an ongoing opportunity. Honestly, we’re new to the game and we have a lot of learning to do. The reality is broadcast is still the largest platform for advertisers’ messages and we have to convince them to take part in this new opportunity. In the case of delayed viewership, we tend to bring some real energy to that initiative.
Where do you believe you can be in one year compared to the other networks?
DW: We’re not looking at the competition. We want to establish a couple of hits. If we come out of this with a bona fide hit, we’ll view that as a success. We will rebuild brick by brick. That means convincing parters, including the press and the advertising community, that broadcast is the best way to get value. We can look to sales to Netflix and Hulu as proof that there’s opportunity in broadcast television.
Yes, but you own Hulu.
DW: We may own Hulu, but that doesn’t mean we’ll always go with them. We took “24” to Amazon. Hulu is trying to build their platform too. So, the best content wins. And broadcast is still the best engine to make those kind of deals happen. Our goal is to build a schedule with undeniable content.