Of course, nothing is usual right now, given the massive change that’s about to impact the company. That’s why Fox Television Group chairman Gary Newman opened Fox’s day at the Television Critics Association press tour by addressing “the elephant in the room… or in our case, the Mouse.”
Newman joked that he and fellow chairman Dana Walden had a great holiday break — and then flashed photoshopped pics of the two of them having a glorious day at Disneyland. Turning serious, Newman gave a brief list of what happens when the deal does go down: “On the day the deal closes, the TV studio will be a part of Disney. It’s been my home for 28 years [and is] an incredible company. I have every expectation it will remain that way for many years to come.”
On that same day, Fox Broadcasting, Fox News, Fox Sports and the Fox stations will be spun off into a new company, “New Fox.”
“It will be a very robust and nimble company,” Newman said. “It will continue the tradition of disruption that has always been core to the Fox brand. New Fox has an extraordinary opportunity to chart a new course for the future.”
Walden admitted that she was surprised at first by the news. “I was initially shocked. It was a little stunning. Having worked there for such a long time and working so closely with the Murdochs, it didn’t seem to me like that was on the table. Until I started talking to them about what this opportunity was. In terms of our creators, Disney is a company that has such a deep legacy for storytelling. When the transaction goes through the company will still be in the hands of people who still care deeply about storytelling and creators.
“The shock was really quickly turned into a very clear view of what kind of an opportunity this is,” Walden added, “and how protective the Murdochs were in terms of making a decision about Disney when they had other companies courting them. It’s a brand that they admire, and I don’t believe they would turn these assets over to just anyone.”
Newman and Walden said they had no insight yet to their future, including whether they’ll continue to oversee the Fox Broadcasting Company under New Fox, or moving to Disney — or perhaps moving on all together. (Walden, in particular, has been rumored for other gigs, including the top Amazon Studios position.)
“We really don’t know,” Newman said. “Whether we ultimately end up at Disney or Fox, certainly in the next 12 to 18 months we’re committed to Fox.”
Walden also echoed that there was “so much to be done, and we’re committed to our team. There will certainly be decisions to be made over time… I clearly am going to have a decision to make. I love this company, I’ve spent 26 years here. I love the team, Gary and I have had a hand in putting virtually every person in place. I’m very committed to them. I would not speculate right now about leaving, or frankly about anything other than the work at hand. It wouldn’t be helpful or productive.”
Walden also downplayed speculation that Fox might turn into a network focused on live events, news, and sports — something that Rupert Murdoch had even hinted at. “Rupert sees this as an enormous opportunity for the broadcast network,” Walden said.
For now, development, series orders and a fall schedule announcement at the May upfronts will continue as usual. “We have to operate at Fox as if this deal doesn’t go through,” said Newman, who added that everyone at the company expects the deal to be approved.
“We’ll be ordering pilots by the end of the month, and it will be a similar number of pilots [as last year],” he said. “We’ll market and promote shows [as usual]. We’ll worry down the road when this deal happens.”
Asked if Disney’s pending acquisition of edgy animated 20th Century Fox fare like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” might dilute those shows, Newman said, “They’re not acquiring Fox to create some kind of PG company, or as Bob Iger has put it, to ‘Disney-fy’ it.”
The execs also made it clear that current Fox programming, specifically shows produced by 20th Century Fox TV, wouldn’t be moving off the network to Disney’s ABC or another entity.
Will New Fox create its own new in-house production unit? “One of the exciting parts, they can do whatever they want,” Newman said. “[This will be a company that will generate a lot of free cash. Those decisions have not only not been made, but I don’t think they have been considered. But the entire environment is wide open. They can buy from anyone, and can certainly choose to make that kind of investment.”
Newman confirmed that current deals with talent do not give them an “out” in the event of a sale, so those pacts would transfer with 20th to Disney ownership.
Later, during a panel for his new drama “9-1-1,” Ryan Murphy said he was taken aback by the Disney/Fox news, and that he would wait and see what transpires before deciding whether to sign a new deal with a Disney-owned 20th Century Fox TV.
“Three months ago, I literally thought I’d be buried on the Fox lot,” Murphy told reporters. “I had my mausoleum picked out and I was ready to commit.. I was was very not prepared for what happened.”
Murphy said he talked to Iger after the deal was announced, and expressed his concerns: “Am I going to have to put Mickey Mouse in American Horror Story?” But Iger insisted that 20th fare wouldn’t have to be toned down. “He said, ‘No, the reason Disney was interested in buying Fox was because they believed in assets, they believed in the executives and the creators.’ I’m interested to see what that company is going to look like before I make decisions about where I’m going to go.”