As chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group, Dana Walden has enjoyed one of the longest and most successful business partnerships in the industry, working with fellow chairman and CEO Gary Newman for more than 17 years.
The pair were first named as joint presidents of 20th Century Fox Television in 1999 and, at this point “are like an old married couple,” Walden jokes.
“It’s a very effortless relationship at this point, and that’s because we’ve put so much effort into it over the period that we’ve been partners,” she explains. “Together, we’re able to cover an enormous amount of territory at the studio and the network, because there are two of us. We get to be very hands-on and very involved in all of the different areas.”
Having been originally tapped for the post from a studio background, the pair now oversee a mammoth conglomerate that comprises terrestrial broadcaster Fox Broadcasting Company (FBC); the broadcast and cable production studios 20th Century Fox Television (TCFTV) and Fox 21 Television Studios; the syndicator of off-network and first-run programming Twentieth Television; and licensing division Fox Consumer Products.
Beyond her partnership with Newman, Walden says collaboration is very much at the heart of Fox’s success. “We start with a fundamental premise that you breakthrough with the best creators in the business,” she says. “You breakthrough by creating partnerships with people like Ryan Murphy, Seth MacFarlane, and Dan Fogelman, and then you have to have ideas that feel meaningful to broad audiences.
“You have to have big, bold, risk-taking ideas where audiences feel like there’s something to talk about and share socially.”
The key focus of the group’s strategy is having “a balance of elements on a slate,” she says. On the cable production side, the company produces some 18 titles, including shows such as The Americans, Homeland and American Horror Story. On the broadcast side, the duo has overseen shows such as Lethal Weapon, Empire and This is Us, as well as reboots of older titles such as 24 and The X-Files.
Looking to the future, some of the more anticipated productions will include Netflix crime drama Seven Seconds, which is being spearheaded by Veena Sud (The Killing) and stars Regina King (American Crime), along with the second season of Hulu drama Chance, featuring House star Hugh Laurie. “We are definitely looking selectively at opportunities to work in the OTT space,”
The biggest challenge facing the business over the year to come, however, will be tackling audience fragmentation. “There is so much content, only the best is going to survive,” Walden offers. “There are so many things that are now taken into consideration as we develop shows on both sides of the company.
“At the studio, we’re hearing pitches in their most nascent state. We’re trying to have a very broad and balanced slate of projects in development, we’re trying things that feel outrageous, but we’re also reinventing properties that are recognizable.
“A winning schedule is one where each of the shows supports each other. We have some shows like The X-Files, with this incredibly loyal and active fan base, even after all these years. They were waiting for us to commission another season of that show, and waiting for the creative partners to come back and say they wanted to do more episodes. And then we balance against that with something like Star, Lee Daniels’ new show that we launched behind the finale of Empire.”
In the end, she says, it all comes back to those partnerships with creators. In that respect, she says she draws inspiration from Brandon Tartikoff, whose Legacy Award both she and Newman received during a gala dinner at NATPE Miami 2017.
“Brandon really had a reputation for letting creators have a lot of autonomy and freedom,” she says of the late NBC Entertainment president, “and picking phenomenal talent.”
This article was originally published in the Day 2 issue of the NATPE Daily. Read more from NATPE Daily Day 2.