PASADENA — One of the major questions to emerge from Disney’s planned acquisition of core Fox assets is the fate of Dana Walden and Gary Newman.
The co-chiefs of the Fox Television Group, after all, are among the prized talents at the company, overseeing both the network and the prolific studio behind “Modern Family” and “This Is Us.” Would they stay with the network, which is going with Fox, or move with the studio to Disney?
Or would they split up their partnership and head elsewhere?
Where the pair lands could determine where some of the most popular television — present and future — will live.
If Walden and Newman have made any decisions, they aren’t saying. But the pair, speaking publicly Thursday for the first time since the merger, underscored the key issues facing them. In the process they also highlighted how the coupling of entertainment giants may not be as simple as top executives have suggested.
“We remain super-committed to the network and the studio,” Newman said, addressing reporters at the semi-annual Television Critics Association gathering in a hotel north of Los Angeles. “Whether we end up at Disney, stay or move on to something else, certainly for the next 12 to 18 months, we’re very committed to Fox and all the people here,” Newman said, referring to the period in which regulators will scrutinize the merger before it can be completed.
Walden said that “clearly we’ll have a decision to make over time,” but said she wouldn’t “speculate right now about leaving or frankly about anything other than the work that’s at hand,” referring to new winter shows and pilot season. Fox has a slew of fresh shows, including the Ryan Murphy-created procedural “9-1-1,” which debuted this week on the network and is produced by the studio, and the music-competition show “The Four,” featuring Sean Combs and Meghan Trainor.
Newman began the panel by saying he wanted to show a photo of what he and Walden — collectively the pair have more than a half-century of experience at Fox — did over the holidays. The screen then flashed an image of the pair with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. Realizing later his joke may carry more import than he intended, Newman said. “I certainly did not mean to give any hints to what the future would be.”
Disney acquired Fox primarily for its rich content pipeline. That gives executives like Walden and Newman, who are responsible for so much of that content, a lot of leverage in where they’ll end up. Disney chief Robert Iger called them both after the acquisition, Walden said, presumably to make the case for why they should join Disney.
The choice in a sense comes down to whether a modern TV executive would want to run a network without a studio, as post-merger Fox will be, or enter into a much larger fold running a studio, as the pair would do if they went to Disney.
Or, put another way: content or distribution? (Disney has plenty of distribution, of course, but Walden and Newman likely wouldn’t be running it.)
Walden said she liked the idea of a network without a studio, since it meant an ability to buy shows from any content provider. (Networks with in-house studios sometimes privilege their own shows because the upside is greater.) But she also spoke of the rejiggered Fox several times in the third person, which left a more Disney-centric impression.
In the meantime, the pair need to reassure their own talent not to exit. Newman said Thursday that no producers at Fox’s TV studio have out clauses in their deals due to ownership change: “I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t anxiety that week the deal was announced,” Newman said. “[But] we talked with many of our producers and assured them this will be business as usual for 12 to 18 months.”
He said the company will commission the same number of pilots in the months ahead even as he acknowledged that they were, essentially, operating on borrowed time.
Walden said she was “initially shocked” by news of the Disney merger. “It just didn’t seem to be [what] was on the table.” She said that after she talked to Iger, though, her worries were assuaged.
“The shock turned into a clear view of what an opportunity this is,” she said. “Disney is a company that has such a deep legacy of storytelling,” she added. “When the acquisition goes through the company will be in the hands of people who care about storytelling.”
Walden wasn’t the only one surprised. Murphy, who has been behind stalwart franchises at Fox subsidiary FX including “American Horror Story” “and “American Crime Story,” is another key piece of human capital on the company’s lot.
At a panel later in the day, he also described hearing about the merger and having concerns. He said Iger called him to talk them out.
“I said ‘the stuff I do is not specifically Disney. Am I going to have to put Mickey Mouse in ‘American Horror Story?’ ” Murphy recalled.
Iger assured him he wouldn’t. That placated Murphy — to an extent.
“I think Mr. Iger has done a tremendous job of taking over communities and keeping them intact,” Murphy said.
But the creator said he’s made no decisions about where to go after the merger is complete. “I’m sort of interested in what that company is going to look like,” he said. “I don’t think anyone knows.”
You Might Also Like: