Interview with HUMANITAS Studio Partners Dana Walden and Gary Newman


walden-newman-mainWhen Dana Walden and Gary Newman were elevated to chairmen and CEOs of the newly created Fox Television Group earlier this summer, few in the industry were surprised.

Instead, the guessing game focused on how they would juggle duties of both the network and the studio — entities that ran independently and, at times, at odds until now. Would the pair hear pitches with studio hats on or network ones? And how would they feel about the anti-pilot season philosophy that their predecessor Kevin Reilly trumpeted before the press earlier this year?

Now in the job for six weeks, Walden and Newman are hoping to provide clarity to those and other questions. They are said to be highly engaged, and have wasted little time buying (and selling) projects and making key executive moves. In fact, in week three, they announced that they would be bringing Fox TV Studios president David Madden over as their entertainment chief, and moving Joe Earley into a role where he, like them, will have to straddle the network and the studio.

Below, they address the new line of decision-making at the Fox TV Group, agent frustrations and just how much patience they'll have for big reality bet Utopia.

Let’s start with the line of decision-making. Are you hearing pitches with a studio hat or a network hat?

Newman: I actually have two hats in my office; one says "network," one says "studio." Paul Lee over at ABC sent those over to us and I find it very useful. [Laughs.] Look, the answer is from case to case, it's one or the other. We have heard projects with some of the writers, who we’ve been in business with for a long time at the studio, that we’ve heard as a studio — often, pitches that are still in their formation stage where we or the writers have wanted our input on developing them. We’ve probably heard more pitches with the network hat on. Certainly all of the outside pitches are that way, and many of the pitches that have been in great shape coming out of the studio we’ve heard from a network perspective.

How do you avoid a project that you pass on at Fox having the smell of damaged goods when you take it elsewhere?

Walden: First and foremost, we try at the studio to take projects out into the marketplace that are desirable and that will sell. It’s very rare that we take something out that just doesn’t sell anywhere. So, we don’t view projects that aren’t right for Fox at this time as damaged goods.

You don’t, no, but how do avoid that being the perception?

Walden: I should say we don’t make a decision at FBC like, "Oh that’s a bad one, let it go out into the community." What we have impressed upon the network executives is the need to be decisive and the need to treat the talent coming from the studio with the utmost respect and a very quick response. It’s not completely different from how these companies used to operate. They always had an informal first-look at Fox — Fox would typically hear the first pitch and then sometimes what would happen is the executives at the network were a little bit uncertain, the project would go out into the marketplace and then the level of passion at the network would be determined by the level of passion in their competitors. We’re not doing that anymore. There are specific pieces, like in the case of [Phil] Lord and [Chris] Miller on the project they did with Dan Sterling that ended up with CBS. We all made the decision that Lord and Miller already had two high-profile pieces of development — actually, one piece of development and one series order — at FBC, and so their next project should go out into the marketplace and bypass FBC.

Look, we want the experience for 20th writers to be excellent throughout this transition. And when a project at 20th ends up at the network, those creators are going to have an extraordinary experience because right from the beginning their projects are very much priorities of the network and that’s how we’re forcing the network to treat them. Similarly though, when we take something out into the market, we’re forcing the network executives to be decisive and at the point that they say, "I value this at this level," and the studio says, "Well out in the marketplace, that piece is far more valuable," the project is going out into the marketplace and Fox is out of it. So, it’s about putting pressure on executives to work from their gut and to decide what they want. That’s what we want here: to empower people and to declare their passion and then proceed based on that. And then we also have outside studio business at the network — great projects already from Warner Bros., Sony, ABC Studios, so it’s working very well right now.

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UncategorizedJosh Neimark