By Valerie Milano
Pasadena, CA (The Hollywood Times) 1/5/17 – The FOX Network held an executive session on Thursday, January 4th, 2018 at the TCA Winter Press Tour taking place at the luxurious Langham Hotel in Pasadena. Below is a summary of this session.
Jean Guerin, head of communications at FOX, welcomed the audience members and wished them a Happy New Year. After some housekeeping comments, Jean introduced Gary Newman, Chairman and CEO of FOX Television Group.
Gary said that 21st Century Fox had announced the sale of many of its assets to the Walt Disney Company a few weeks prior. “On the day the deal closes, the TV studio will become part of Disney,” he reiterated.
The Fox TV Group comprises both Fox Broadcasting Company and 20th Century Fox Television. It has produced Emmy winners and culture defining hits such as M*A*S*H, THE SIMPSONS, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, EMPIRE,24, MODERN FAMILY, and GLEE under the direction of some of the strongest creators in the industry, according to Newman. FBC, Fox Sports, Fox News, and the FOX owned and operated stations will also be spun off into what is being called “New Fox.”
The FOX/Disney deal is expected to take 12 to 18 months to close with many FOX shows already in production. “We are not going to let that distract us. We will remain focused on managing the business of FOX,” Gary assured his listeners.
Gary briefly mentioned some top FOX shows such as EMPIRE and THE GIFTED before turning his attention to three new series launched since the New Year: 9 1 1, LA TO VEGAS, and THE X-FILES. THE FOUR: BATTLE FOR STARDOM with its “original and distinctive” format was scheduled to launch that same day on January 4th and THE RESIDENT will premiere a little later on January 21st.
All of the shows will be out ahead of the Olympics and FOX competitors’ new programs. The FOX marketing and publicity teams have been “working on overdrive” for weeks!
The FOX brand is valued by advertisers who pay a premium to reach an audience that is younger, more gender balanced, and more diverse than the other networks have and drives a broad base of cable subscribers estimated to reach over 16 million viewers by 2021. This will have a “tremendously positive” impact on the pay TV universe.
“This acceleration and our ability to reach consumers wherever they are underscores why we take the long view in measuring the reach of our programs,” concluded Newman.
Next, Gary Newman invited Dana Walden, Michael Thorn, and Rob Wade to join him so they could field questions about the New Fox/Disney sale. The first question was actually about the future of the FOX program PRISON BREAK.
The next questioner asked whether current FOX shows would air on New Fox or ABC. Dana Walden said that there was no plan to move FOX shows over to ABC. The next question concerned long term deals with FOX talents. Gary Newman said there would be no change of ownership losses of talent.
When another questioner asked about the reaction of FOX producers to working for Disney in the future, Gary Newman said, “I would be lying if I didn’t say there wasn’t anxiety.” But he believes that Disney’s people are enormous fans of FOX and that the studio will remain very robust as New Fox.
The next questioner asked Gary and Dana what their own plans might be after the merger. “The truth is we don’t really know,” said Gary. However, he and Dana both remain “supercommitted” to the network and studio.
Another questioner asked Gary and Dana to discuss the separation of FBC from the studio. Dana said that 80 per cent of the New Fox programming would be live and sports with entertainment programming on the network. She said that Rupert [Murdoch] saw this as an enormous opportunity for the broadcast network to work with independents like Warner Brothers, Sony, Lionsgate, and MGM.
The next questioner asked about plans for further integration (i.e. going forward and doing in house productions versus going outside) during the transition. Gary Newman said, “We have to operate at FOX as if this deal might not go through, and the company needs to remain as strong as possible in that eventuality. Our expectation is that it will go through. So, for us, it will be business as usual.” The FOX team is reading scripts and planning to order pilots as always.
The next questioner asked how the model of a network with no studio attached would change things financially for New Fox. Dana Walden said that times had changed enough that they would not expect big windfalls of cash from hit shows like SEINFELD that went into syndication. “But I think first they’re going to be shedding a lot of costs in terms of overhead of the studio and all of its productions,” she added. The four companies slated to become part of New Fox should also be extremely lucrative.
Two more questioners asked about THE FOUR. Rob Wade said that the “clean and simple” concept of starting with four great singers during a six-week event had been received very positively. And the huge professional payoff for the winner has also given the show a lot of credibility.
The next question concerned animation opportunities with Disney. Gary Newman said that there hadn’t been any creative conversations about content at all with Disney since the deal had yet to close. However, Disney management had been “very vocal” about how much they liked the FOX brand and didn’t seem inclined to “Disnify” the FOX animation content that was not G-rated.
The next questioner asked if there was an update on SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. Rob Wade said there was not. Dana Walden told the next questioner that there was no danger to GOTHAM and LUCIFER, both DC properties, from the merger with Disney as Marvel.
Rob Wade expanded upon his comments about THE FOUR with the next questioner, who wanted to know how the program would help artists on the back end and how the network would engage young viewers. Rob said that there was an amazing three-part prize that would take good care of the winner and that there was also an amazing deal with iHeartRadio.
The FOX team tried to figure out during the research phase why the singing shows weren’t creating stars, and one of the key factors was radio. The “brilliant” FOX digital marketing campaign for THE FOUR should be able to engage viewers/listeners for this fresh new “gladiatorial” show.
The next questioner followed up with Dana and Gary about comments made the previous year about being happy to let go of AMERICAN IDOL with its older format. ABC-Disney later got the show and the questioner wondered how FOX felt about that! Gary said that the economics of AMERICAN IDOL simply hadn’t been working any more before, so it was brought to an end.
FOX is fine with AMERICAN IDOL continuing on ABC-Disney. “I wish them a little bit of luck, not too much, and we will see what they can do,” said Newman.
The same questioner asked whether FOX and ABC would be trying to compete with each other or complete each other with key shows like THE FOUR and AMERICAN IDOL. Gary Newman said that there were multiple shows on multiple networks in competition with each other and that they were quite used to that at FOX. “There’s plenty of audience for these shows to all compete successfully,” he concluded. Rob Wade added that these were very different shows and Dana Walden said THE FOUR would be off the air before AMERICAN IDOL premiered anyway.
The next questioner asked about the already-mentioned FOX shows THE GIFTED, GOTHAM, and LUCIFER, saying, “How many superhero shows on television is too many? And at what point do you stop ordering new ones?” Michael Thorn said that each “very different” show had attracted a “strong, loyal, passionate” audience, so they were glad to have all of them on the FOX slate.
Dana Walden agreed that they could take as many great shows as got delivered to them! When questioned whether X-FILES could continue without Agent Scully if Gillian Anderson didn’t want to continue in the role, Walden said that in that case there wouldn’t be any more X-FILES.
The next questioner asked whether New Fox would do deals with other studios or consider having an in house studio. Gary Newman said that those decisions had not been made, but that one of the exciting parts of this new situation for New Fox was that they could do anything they wanted. “They’re going to have a company that’s going to generate a lot of free cash!” he said. “They can buy in any new way that gets dreamt up.”
On that optimistic New Year note, Jean Guerin thanked the audience and ended the panel.