Fox’s Joe Earley on Exit, Whether He Wants to Run a Broadcast Network

Longtime exec says he wants to focus on creative in next act

Fox Broadcasting Company has been in business for 29 years. Joe Earley has been with the network for the last 21 of those, having joined as a senior publicist in 1994. At the end of the year he will depart his current post, COO of Fox Television Group, the entity overseeing the broadcast network and its sister studio, 20th Century Fox Television. News of his departure, in the works since spring, was announced Thursday.

Early leaves Fox not only as one of its most tenured employees but also having worked in and overseen a ridiculous number of departments. As COO, he led marketing and communications, digital, research, talent relations, scheduling and audience strategy at the network and worked with the studio’s development, production, marketing, business affairs and finance leads on strategic initiatives, as well as talent relations and publicity.

He also, for a brief time, led programming at the network under former president Kevin Reilly. When Reilly departed in 2014 and studio chiefs Gary Newman and Dana Walden added the network to their purview, Earley was promoted to COO of the newly formed television group. But in the process he handed oversight of programming at the network to new entertainment president David Madden, one of Newman and Walden’s chief lieutenants at the studio.

“When I was given the opportunity to join Fox Television Group, I was thrilled, because it was an opportunity to learn the studio side of the business,” Earley told TheWrap Thursday. “As I looked down the road, it was apparent to me that the more success I was going to have at the new role, the more operational it would become, just by it’s very nature. That’s when I started talking with Dana and Gary about it and saying, ‘I love this. I’m so appreciative. You guys are amazing. I am looking down the road. I am getting older, and I’m looking down the road and I’m concerned, because I don’t want to be in an operational role when the reason I began this career was to work with creative.’”

Earley spoke with TheWrap about his departure, the transition under Walden and Newman, and whether what he wants to do next.

When did you first speak to Dana and Gary about moving on?
Earley: It was in the spring. I think it was around March.

Did they ask you to stay or try to change your mind?
We honestly discussed the reality of the role. I definitely knew going into the role what it was going to be. I was so excited about the learning part of it that at the time I wasn’t paying attention to the idea that “Oh, you know, when you began this career 28 years ago, you wanted to do this.” Instead I thought, “When will I ever have the opportunity again?” So it was really that realization that the more successful I am at this the more it’s going to become operational. I like to do a good job. I do the job that I’m assigned and I try to do it very well. I know myself, and they know me as well, and they were very understanding that I need to explore the real reason that I began working in entertainment to begin with.

Was it a disappointment last year to give up oversight of programming at the network?
This network’s very important to me. The people who work here are very important to me. I was excited that the network and the studio were coming together and I absolutely believed that in order to turn the network around, it needed a creative head who was experienced and had all the necessary relationships, so I was very, very supportive of David Madden coming in. And I was very pleased with my opportunity at that point to learn the studio side. That was very fulfilling for me. But I’m one of those people who plans, who looks ahead, so I just started doing that.

When Kevin Reilly left last year, was there any talk between you and [Fox Networks Group CEO] Peter Rice or anyone else at Fox about the possibility of you taking over the network?
No. Never. At that point, the [studio and network] were merging, so it was a moot point. But as it relates to entertainment, at that point it needed to be somebody who has more breadth of experience.

What do you want to do next?
I want to be directly impacting creative. I’m really open to the range of what that means. We agreed I would not start talks with people before the announcement, because it was imperative that the staff find out in an appropriate way, that there not be any sort of leaks or rumors going around. So I’m exited that today, after I’m done talking to you, I can get on with my life.

Do you want to run a broadcast network some day?
I wouldn’t say that my aspirations are wanting to run a broadcast network. My aspirations are getting deeper into the creative. For the past 10, 12 years, I’ve overseen so many different areas, it’s been very challenging to get incredibly deep into any one of them. So I’m looking forward to narrowing my focus so it can be deeper. I’ve sat beside the people who run networks for many years now, and I know how challenging that is, and I have incredible respect for all of the people who are doing it. So having been a part of that, it’s not an actual aspiration.

You’ve had experience now on the studio side, you’ve had digital experience. Would producing or working with a digital company be something that you might be looking at?
Yes, I’m definitely open to that. Producing would be fantastic. Creative executive or overseeing creative executives, whether its linear or non linear. All of that you have to be open to in today’s world as it truly is becoming a cross platform world.

What are you most proud of having accomplished at Fox?
I’m most proud of the team. I’m most proud of the people who work so hard and are really creative and continue to innovate in a world where it is very difficult to innovate. To have been a part of bringing them together and to have had a hand in their careers is really exciting for me.