Beverly Hills, CA – The ongoing saga of New Fox began yet another chapter yesterday at the Summer 2018 Television Critics Association tour. “Here we go again, Fox [at] TCA, hot on the heels of a huge corporation announcement,” Fox Television Group Chairman and CEO Dana Walden joked as she took the stage with Fox Television Group Chairman and CEO Gary Newman Thursday for the network’s executive press session. “Not since my kids were little have I been asked so many times about going to Disney.” She was referring to Fox’s day at the Winter 2018 TCA tour in January, just a couple of weeks after the announcement that The Walt Disney Company was exploring the acquisition of key assets of the Fox Corporation.
“As you know, last week shareholders approved the transaction between Fox and Disney,” Walden continued. “Unfortunately, we're limited in what we can say, because the approval process is still ongoing and some things have yet to be resolved, including the management structure at both companies. The last time we met was just two weeks after the deal was announced, and we inspired a new drinking game called Business as Usual. You will not hear us use that phrase today because we've been planning for the split between the network and the studio and setting up the direction for both companies. Upon closing, the studio will move to Disney, along with other Fox assets. But we are here today to talk about the network.”
Walden went on the reiterate that once the Disney deal is completed, the Fox network, which will likely have a new name, will be “a more focused media company.” It currently has the working title New Fox.
“I think there was some confusion going back to the initial announcement of the deal, where I believe Rupert [Murdoch] said that New Fox would be 80 percent live, and he was talking about the entire media organization, which is Fox News, Fox Sports and the station group, which all feature largely live programming. The broadcast network will continue to have the same mix it's had before. And while we have Thursday Night Football this year, which is a new edition, that's 11 weeks of the fall. And then going into next season, WWE will occupy Friday night. There's still so much to program. We don't have a schedule like the one we used to have where there was one show in a time period and then for a certain period of time, you repeated that show. We're launching shows all season long. There's plenty of opportunity for great entertainment shows, and I don't anticipate the mix to change.”
“In the past, Thursday Night Football has had an odd programming schedule, with shows being split between two broadcast networks and also on the NFL network, and I think having just one broadcast network focused on it is an opportunity for Fox to really communicate with the audience and make [it] as much of an appointment as Sunday football has been," Newman noted. "We're going to be using many of the same people from the beloved Sunday football broadcast on Thursday night, and so we have really high hopes for growth in Thursday Night Football.”
On the subject of original series programming, Walden said, “First and foremost, [New Fox] will be the only network to operate with complete independence. It will have the ability to pick up the best shows from any production company, with no studio agenda. We see this as a great opportunity to get vibrant, independent studios back on broadcast. “Indies have gotten the squeeze. Five years ago, they landed 16 new series on the major networks. This year, that number is just 6. Not good for them or the creative vitality of the business. At New Fox, they'll have more opportunity because the independents will be on a completely even playing field. I'm talking about companies like Sony, MGM, Lionsgate and Warners. They've invested in major talent and have great IP. We want to be their first choice among the big four networks. The truth is, hits can come from anywhere and, in fact, they already do.”
The season's top-rated series on ABC, CBS and NBC were Roseanne, The Big Bang Theory and This Is Us, Walden noted, adding that they were all produced by indies and outside studios. “New Fox will be an aggressive buyer from all studios and top creators,” she said. “Last season, 90 percent of our development came from our own studio. In this transition year, we'll be reducing that to 50 percent, with the other half coming from outside. Our long-term goal is a well-rounded schedule with projects coming from everywhere.”
After a question about how New Fox will cover the license fees of shows, given the ongoing decline in ratings for broadcast network series, Walden replied, “New Fox will have a co-ownership stake in anything that's ordered going forward on the network. That's just commonplace in our business right now. Space on a network schedule is incredibly valuable. I think [the] shows that are wholly owned by a studio which is not affiliated with a network are typically the older juggernauts that we've been talking about here, and decisions to keep those shows going has very much to do with keeping circulation on [the networks]. Again, keeping quality shows that have helped to define a network's brand alive. There are a lot of reasons aside from financial that you would keep those shows moving forward.”
The primary juggernaut at Current Fox, of course, is The Simpsons. One reporter pointed out that the deal at Current Fox for that show has to be enormously expensive. (“It’s been on longer than some people in this room have been alive,” the reporter noted to giggles and groans from the TCA membership.) Will a show as costly as The Simpsons remain on New Fox once its current deal expires?
“The Simpsons is so much a part of the brand,” Walden replied. (The proof is in the photo above; characters from the show still stroll about between panels at Fox TCA sessions.) “There's been such an incredible halo effect of that show and the other animated series that are on our Sunday night. There are no plans for them to go anywhere other than Fox. We have a couple years of episodes already in progress on The Simpsons. Down the line, what kind of decision is made I can't really speak to. But for the foreseeable future, there's so much upside and benefit to having a great Emmy Award-winning, smart, provocative, quality show that there's no consideration of not ordering more Simpsons.”
“Look, there is no difference between The Simpsons on Fox and The Big Bang Theory on CBS,” Newman added. “As long as we've all been in the business, networks have licensed shows they don't have ownership of. It is challenging, and I anticipate it will be challenging on The Simpsons, but as Dana said, The Simpsons is so associated with Fox, and that association benefits both the network and the owner of the IP. The Simpsons generates lots of revenue and opportunities off network through consumer products and otherwise, and I feel confident that Disney and Fox are going to find a way to both have an interest in that show, and I anticipate it continuing to stay on the Fox network.”
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