Fox’s Rice on Studio-Network Combo, Niche Comedies and Emmy Categories #TCA14

Fox Broadcasting is still, technically, between bosses. In May, the network announced that Kevin Reilly would step down as entertainment chairman. Then, on July 14, parent company 21st Century Fox announced that it would unite the network with 20th Century Fox Television under the leadership of studio chiefs Dana Walden and Gary Newman—who don’t officially start their new jobs until July 28.

Filling the gap on Sunday at the TCA summer press tour was Walden and Newman’s boss, Fox Networks Group Chairman and CEO Peter Rice, who fielded questions at the network’s executive session while Walden and Newman tended to “preexisting engagements.”

Rice spoke with B&C after the session about the new network and studio structure, the diminishing importance of live viewing, and why the Emmys need fewer categories, not more.

What would you say are Dana and Gary’s top priorities going into next week, when they start the job officially?
I think the first thing they have to do is immerse themselves in the culture of the network, and really get to know everyone there. There’s a terrific group of executives that they’ve known from across the lot and now are going to be working more closely with. We’re going to run the companies independently of each other but with joint leadership, so that they can align things, and I think the calibration of that is probably job No. 1. And then the overarching thing is how do we get more hits? It’s ultimately a very hit-driven business.

Does the mission of the studio change? It’s been very successful at servicing lots of networks.
The mission of the studio does not change. We want to produce for all of the networks. I think it’s incumbent on us to show that through action. Gary and Dana obviously have really good relationships with all of the other networks heads. And if we want to sell to everybody, I think we have to buy from everybody. I don’t think we can be in a position of, “We won’t buy from you, but we’d really like to sell to you.” We’re advantaged because the studio is so successful. They do have such a track record and set of relationships from making things for everybody else. Not all of the stories that our creative partners will want to tell will fit on Fox. I think Dana and Gary have to be very smart, as they’ve always been, about making sure the right project finds the right partner.

How do you keep Dana and Gary from overextending themselves?
There are good executives at both places. At the studio, they just promoted [creative affairs president Jonnie Davis] and [business operations president Howard Kurtzman] a number of months ago. I think they’re going to lean on them to step up a little bit. That’s a very smoothly running place, the studio.

You got a lot of questions during the executive session about pilot season. Is it fair to say that you’re going to continue to experiment with it, but maybe not be quite so loud about it as Kevin was?
We have to be the best place to come to develop things. But I don’t think you can do that in a rigid way of saying, “We will only decide on January the fifth which pilots we’re picking up, and then we’ll try and cast them all, and we’ll all chase the same directors.” I just don’t think that’s the best way to do the best work. I don’t think it’s the most creative way to work. I also think that next February we’ll be shooting a pilot. It’s not that we’re saying we will not make pilots anymore or we will not make them in February. It’s saying that having a rigid, rigid system isn’t the best way to attract talent.

Are there too many niche comedies on the network?
No, I don’t think so. I talked a lot about measurement [in the executive session]. New Girl—seven and a half million people a week watch New Girl. It is the most time-shifted comedy on television. It has the highest concentration of 18-49 year olds. If you took all of that viewing and made it live viewing, New Girl would have a four-plus rating. Nobody would be saying that it was a niche comedy if it had between a four and a five rating. We have to recognize that that’s how viewers are consuming content right now. The network used to mean that if you wanted to watch New Girl, you had to be sitting on your couch at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday to be a fan of New Girl. You can now watch New Girl anywhere you want, any time. I think that’s an advantage and that’s an expansion of the network. But I think the way we monetize is way behind consumer behavior.

If you’re selling C3, and you just said in the executive session that half of your upfront was C7, does the live rating matter anymore?
I’d love to say no, the live rating doesn’t matter anymore. I think the live rating is a small, diminishing piece of our viewing. So it matters, because all of our viewing matters. It’s a decreasing percentage of our viewing. As its percentage of our viewing decreases its importance decreases. When it was 100% of the viewing, it mattered 100%. When it gets down to being 20% of the viewing, it matters 20%.

At what point does it just go off a cliff and matter 0%?
All the shows are different. Hypothetically, say its 50%. Five years ago, it was probably 100%. In another five years it will be somewhere between zero and 50. My guess is that it will be closer to 10 or 20 than it will be to 50. It’s not going up again. When that happens, its importance diminishes.

When that happens, does the schedule not matter at all and you just become Netflix?
I don’t think so, because I think people, in the rhythms of their own lives and how they consume entertainment, appreciate that it is parceled out. And the way we make them allows us to broadcast them and respond to the audience. If you make an entire season, you finish it, and then you put it all out at once, you can never respond to the audience. So I think there’s a great relationship between the creators and the audience that movies don’t have, that when you’re making something for a digital platform where you make the entire season you can’t have.

The broadcast networks all had fewer Emmy nominations than they did a year ago. Does that matter to you at all? And if so, do there need to be changes at the Academy in terms of how they define certain shows?
Of course it matters, because when you get nominated and when you win, it’s a fantastic feeling to be celebrated by your peers in that way. But we live in a more competitive world. Now you have hundreds and hundreds of scripted television shows, therefore it’s inevitable that with more competition, it’s harder to stand out. Do I think there should be changes at the Academy? No, if anything there are too many categories. I think the harder something is to win, the more exclusive it is, the greater the feeling on the other side.