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Fox Searchlight Enters the TV Business, and Potentially a New Turf War Inside 21st Century Fox

The timing is unusual, as 21st Century Fox divisions await word of their fate under the upcoming planned merger with Disney.

Matthew Greenfield and David Greenbaum90th Annual Academy Awards, Executive Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 04 Mar 2018

Matthew Greenfield and David Greenbaum

Stewart Cook/Variety

As Disney and 21st Century Fox approach the merger of their production assets, Fox has one more opportunity for infighting with the announcement of Searchlight Television, a new division of Fox Searchlight Pictures that will develop for broadcast, cable, and streaming.

David Greenbaum and Matthew Greenfield have been promoted to presidents of production for film and television, effective immediately. Searchlight Television said it would develop “scripted series, limited series, documentaries and more.”

However, about that timing. Once the Disney/Fox merger is consummated, 21st Century Fox employees will be in a state of wait and see. The future for all Fox content producers — Fox Searchlight, 20th Century Fox Film, 20th Century Fox TV — is unclear.

This also creates more TV production competition inside 21st Century Fox. Searchlight Television won’t fall under the domain of Fox Television Group chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman, whose oversight includes the Fox network, 20th Century Fox TV, and its offspring like Fox 21 Television Studios.

Instead, Searchlight Television appears to be in direct competition with Fox 21, the boutique label that produces mostly for cable and streaming, including “American Crime Story,” “Feud,” “Genius,” “The Chi” and more. Ditto FX Productions, the in-house label under John Landgraf that also leans toward auteur fare, mostly (but not only) for that cable network.

21st Century Fox (and originator News Corp.) and Rupert Murdoch have been known to relish internal competition; Fox and 20th Century Fox clashed for years before ultimately consolidating under Walden and Newman. Also, until they merged, Fox 21 and Fox Television Studios were two entities competing for the same style of auteur-driven projects. Now, it appears that on the eve of the ownership transfer, such a healthy bit of internal competition may now be heating up. How that impacts Walden and Newman (if at all), as they also plot their futures at either Disney, New Fox, or somewhere else, remains to be seen.

If there’s any unifying factor, it’s Peter Rice, who ran Fox Searchlight before moving on to the television side. He now serves both as president of 21st Century Fox and chairman/CEO of Fox Networks Group.

Rivalries are common in other congloms as well; for example, Comcast’s Universal Television and Universal Cable Productions both seek to produce content for various outlets, but fall under completely separate oversight.

“At such an exciting time for storytelling, all the Fox channels and studios are thrilled to be collaborating with Searchlight as it expands its unique brand of groundbreaking excellence into television,” Rice said in a statement. It’s unclear whether Searchlight will make 21st Century Fox outlets like FX or NatGeo a first stop in selling and developing projects.

Read More:Fox’s Future: Here Are Four Different Ways The Network Might Survive or Disappear If the Murdochs Sell to Disney

At Searchlight Television, the early emphasis appears to be on mining the studio’s feature film library for adaptations, in addition to developing original material. Under Greenfield and Greenbaum, recent Fox Searchlight successes include “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “Isle of Dogs.”

“Searchlight has always been dedicated to bringing the unique stories of passionate creators to audiences worldwide,” Greenbaum and Greenfield said in a statement. “This evolution allows us to expand upon that mission, and provides our talent new opportunities to tell their stories in the widest variety of creative outlets, all the while maintaining the safe haven and dedicated creative approach that is Searchlight’s hallmark.”

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