Last week’s News Corp. executive shakeup left the TV business stunned, with folks both inside and outside Fox scrambling to figure out what it all means.
Most network ousters happen in slow motion. Word leaks out that an executive is on shaky ground, underlings are sometimes sacrificed first—and then, eventually, the ax falls.
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch’s decision to dump Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Liguori in order to give Peter Rice a promotion, however, caught the entire TV business off-guard.
While everyone knew some shuffling was in the works following Peter Chernin’s decision to depart the company when his contract expires June 30, there were no indications that Mr. Liguori was in trouble. After all, Fox is headed for another easy ratings win in the adults 18-49 demographic, and the network appears to have launched two hits this season (“Fringe” and “Lie to Me”).
“It’s shocking to me that when you’re doing a really good job, that other networks would be envious of, that your job can be in jeopardy like that,” said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, executive VP at media agency Starcom USA. “I don’t know what it takes to succeed as a network executive, because [apparently] having success isn’t what is required. It must be more of a political thing.”
As the shock begins to wear off, industry types are starting to assess what the regime change at Fox means for them.
The jockeying for power is already intense, one senior network executive said.
“The place resembles Iraq after the fall of Saddam,” he said of the Fox lot in West Los Angeles.
Here’s the early line on who’s up and who’s down following Mr. Murdoch’s latest maneuvers.
Already riding high as head of independent film division Fox Searchlight, he now gets one of the most visible posts within News Corp. He’s inheriting a TV network that, by and large, is doing very well, which means he doesn’t have to spend his early days at Fox cleaning up somebody else’s mess. And if Rupe-watchers are right, Mr. Rice’s new job could be a training ground for an even bigger role within the company.
Proof that slow and steady often wins the race, Mr. Vinciquerra—who has strong roots in the TV station business—has been quietly amassing power at News Corp. He now has full control of all News Corp. TV networks (save for Roger Ailes’ Fox News/Fox Business Network/MyNetworkTV mini-empire), and he’s taking over at a time of great success for the entire division. It will be interesting to see if the walls that have long separated the cable and broadcast units at Fox finally fall with Mr. Vinciquerra in control.
Dana Walden and Gary Newman
The co-heads of 20th Century Fox TV picked up oversight of Fox TV Studios, whose independence within News Corp. has always been a head-scratcher. The dynamic studio duo now report to Fox film executives Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman; the latter two executives have no reason to take an active role in what Ms. Newman and Mr. Walden do on a day-to-day basis. With the ever-watchful Mr. Chernin out of the picture, the 20th chiefs should have more power than ever.
Preston Beckman and Mike Darnell
Fox’s head of scheduling and president of alternative, respectively, have always wielded considerable clout within the network. But with the strong-willed Mr. Liguori out of the picture, replaced by TV neophyte Mr. Rice, these two Fox veterans’ voices will be even more important, particularly headed into upfront season. While Mr. Murdoch seems to change Fox TV leaders every three years or so, Mr. Beckman and Mr. Darnell remain the constants at the network.
With Mr. Liguori’s sudden ouster, it’s now official: Ms. Berman is the only successful top Fox network executive who has left the gig of her own accord in the past 15 years.
Virtually every major executive suite drama in TV land recently has involved NBC. This time, the mishegas is about somebody else. That’s got to count for something, right?
The die-hard baseball fan has got to feel a little bit like the 2008 Colorado Rockies. One moment, he’s the king of the world, overseeing a winning network and celebrating yet another hit (“Lie to Me”). Then, without warning, he’s told he’s out of a job. Even if he wasn’t a programming genius, Mr. Liguori was a smart, strong leader who always put the company before his own self-interests. Most industry insiders believe he deserved better.
The president of Fox TV Studios has to be looking over his shoulder right now. His unit had already been marginalized somewhat by the collapse of Regency Television, leaving Mr. Calemzuk to focus on dealmaking rather than program development. The continued success of 20th Century Fox TV indie unit Fox 21 also has left many wondering why News Corp. needed a TV production unit that was separate from 20th. Turns out the answer was: They didn’t. Mr. Calemzuk still has his own studio, but he reports to Mr. Newman and Ms. Walden. One unknown factor: Will Mr. Rice’s strong international background make Mr. Calemzuk’s own global relationships redundant, or will the two men end up working closely together?
Sure, he’s got a bigger playground and a flashier title. But he has to work in television, a medium whose current challenges make the problems of the film business look trivial. We won’t even get into the culture shock the man who acquired “Slumdog Millionaire” is likely to experience when Mike Darnell decides to pitch the return of “When Animals Attack.” (Thankfully, it turns out that Mr. Rice and Mr. Darnell are neighbors, which should ease the transition a bit.)
The Question Marks
Fox’s entertainment president was recruited to Fox by Mr. Liguori and Mr. Chernin. Now both men are gone. Overnight, Mr. Reilly has gone from having one of the best working relationships in town to desperately trying to figure out just what makes his new boss tick. The upside for Mr. Reilly, however, is that Mr. Rice will have no choice but to lean heavily on him to educate him about the development process. And, just like Mr. Rice, Mr. Reilly is known for his good taste in writers and talent. The two could get along swimmingly.
Fox’s ad sales chief hasn’t lost any power in the News Corp. restructuring, but his job just got a bit tougher. Not only does he have to educate Mr. Rice about the advertiser community, he has to calm the nerves of those on Madison Avenue who can’t quite grasp why Fox is changing a team that was winning.
“I think they had momentum going into the upfront based on their development meetings,” Ms. Caraccioli-Davis said. “I think this will make everybody take a step back and re-examine because we don’t know what’s on the horizon. … When you get these big kinds of personalities—and I don’t know [Mr. Rice] at all—they’re going to want change.”
On the plus side for Mr. Nesvig, Fox insiders said the sales executive has a strong relationship with the new regime in charge of the network. “He absolutely has the ear of Tony Vinciquerra,” one executive said.
Jon Lafayette contributed to this report.