All Eyes on Fox as Grushow Departs

Jan 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The Fox Television Entertainment Group may have lost Sandy Grushow’s leadership last week, but not much will change because Entertainment President Gail Berman is capable of running her own show, analysts and TV industry executives said.
By not replacing the departing Mr. Grushow, who oversaw the Fox Network and 20th Century Fox Television studio as chairman of the Fox Television Entertainment Group, parent company News Corp. has given Ms. Berman a vote of confidence. She will now report directly to Peter Chernin, chairman and CEO of the Fox Group.
On the studio side, 20th co-Presidents Dana Walden and Gary Newman also will report to Mr. Chernin. Tony Vinciquerra, who oversees Fox’s ad sales and distribution and reports to Mr. Chernin, continues to oversee the network’s finance department. About two months ago he had also quietly been given oversight of the network’s standards and practices department. He could be in line to acquire more duties, sources said.
Richard Greenfield, an analyst at Fulcrum Global Partners, who covers Fox Entertainment Group, said he doesn’t expect any hiccups at the network due to Mr. Grushow’s exit and that the network faces bigger challenges, such as improving its ratings.
“There isn’t a significant implication, because Gail is still there and she’s running development,” Mr. Greenfield said. “The reality is that whatever Sandy put into production six months ago could end up being next year’s hit or miss. At this point, if `American Idol’ does well, then they are OK. If not, they’re in trouble. [His being] there or not there doesn’t notably swing things one way or another.”
There was little reaction from affiliates. John Tupper, president of Prime Cities Broadcasting and chairman of the Fox affiliates advisory board, said he had gotten only a few calls from fellow Fox affiliates about Mr. Grushow, whom he found to be a likable, well-organized, intelligent leader.
Mr. Tupper described Mr. Grushow’s departure as “not a huge blow.”
Ms. Berman, who with 31/2 years in her current position has become the longest-serving entertainment president at Fox, is well-liked in the creative community and respected for her producer’s background. She was an executive producer of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and was president of Regency Television.
“She has a developer’s brain, and that’s really coveted on the creative side,” said Warren Littlefield, the former NBC-Entertainment president-turned-producer who executive produced the Fox show “Keen Eddie. “She also is a strong leader. She’s managed to uniquely blend the creative side and also run a business by setting and achieving goals.”
Ms. Berman also has a reputation for being a strong advocate of shows she believes in.
“The only way people get truly successful is by taking risks,” said Mitch Hurwitz, executive producer of critical favorite “Arrested Development,” which Fox picked up for a full season despite less than stellar ratings. “She’s consistently done that in her career. She’s certainly done it with this show.”
It is no secret in Hollywood that Ms. Berman and Mr. Grushow didn’t always see eye to eye. Ms. Berman was a staunch supporter of several now-hit Fox shows that Mr. Grushow was said to not be as keen on. Now Ms. Berman, while reporting to Mr. Chernin, will have more authority in picking shows.
While Ms. Berman is the obvious winner of more power, it may trickle down as well. Ms. Berman has a reputation for empowering people to make decisions in their areas of expertise. Two key people to watch are marketing head Roberta Mell and scheduling chief Preston Beckman.
On paper, marketing and scheduling reported to Ms. Berman, but Mr. Grushow-who started his career in marketing-was very hands-on in those departments. Now both are expected to have more prominent roles.
Ms. Mell, executive VP of marketing at Fox, joined the network in June 2002 after a dozen years at HBO.
Mr. Beckman spent 20 years at NBC in scheduling and research before joining Fox in May 2000 as executive VP, strategic program planning.
Ms. Berman and her team will have their work cut out for them.
Despite having a fantastic platform in a highly rated Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series, Fox has had a tough year. The network went into the new season with a crop of new shows that TV critics and ad buyers deemed the best among all the networks, yet only one of the seven new shows-“The O.C.”-has had a positive story.
Fox has held on well in the network standings (tied with CBS for second in adults 18 to 49 and No. 1 in adults 18 to 34) and is the only broadcast network up year-to-year in adults 18 to 49 and adults 18 to 34 (up 3 percent in both measurements), but the gains are attributable to baseball numbers, not regular programming.
Meanwhile, Mr. Grushow, who has spent almost 20 years of his career in various positions at Fox, still has a place in the Fox family.
While knowledgeable sources remain convinced that Mr. Grushow was being pushed toward the door because of his micromanagerial style and the network’s poor record in launching hits, Fox officials wouldn’t expand the official statement that supported Mr. Grushow’s contention that he chose to exercise an option in his current contract that allows him to start his own production company-Phase Two-based at Twentieth Century Fox.
“I think he probably has had as long a tenure at the top of the fast-changing television industry as anyone in the business, and as much as I would have liked to continue to work shoulder to shoulder with Sandy as an executive, I certainly respect his decision and am looking forward to continuing our successful association,” Mr. Chernin said in the statement.
Mr. Grushow, whose contract was to expire in June, said he was offered another multiyear contract by News Corp. but decided he didn’t want to be tied down and opted to try his hand at producing instead.
Mr. Grushow said his leaving had nothing to do with money disagreements or major disputes while negotiating a new contract. Mr. Chernin declined comment other than the statement.
Mr. Grushow was named chairman of the Fox Television Entertainment Group in November 1999.
The timing of Mr. Grushow’s exit, effective upon the Jan. 5 announcement, surprised TV industry executives, but the exit itself did not. He has a reputation as an ambitious executive, and those who know him said he wants to run a major company someday. That was not in the cards at News Corp.
According to sources, Mr. Grushow had a contractual window between Jan. 1 and May 31 of this year with an option to start his own production company at Fox. The three-year deal is said to include a guarantee of at least $10 million a year plus overhead. It is also said to include an out clause that can be invoked if Mr. Grushow wants to take an executive job elsewhere.
Mr. Grushow said he doesn’t have any projects lined up yet, but hopes to get his new company going as soon as possible. Many of the execs who used to report to Mr. Grushow will now decide the fate of his projects. Ms. Walden and Mr. Newman essentially become his new bosses. That irony was not lost on TV industry players.
“I look forward to running into Sandy waiting to pitch [Fox alternative programming head] Mike Darnell outside his office,” said one TV industry insider.
Jay Sherman and Michele Greppi contributed to this report.