Tuzon, Legally Speaking: No Reasonable Doubt

Rita Tuzon, executive VP and general counsel for Fox Networks Group, likes to keep things fresh and constantly evolving. It helps that she works in an industry that is reinventing itself on what seems like a daily basis.

“My philosophy is, ‘Change is good,’” says Tuzon, who supervises business affairs for the company’s cable and digital properties, all legal matters and several business operations units. “[It’s] good for people to keep them motivated.”

However, one change that Tuzon—and many other broadcasters—resist is what they accuse Aereo of doing: illegally stealing their signals.

“We feel really good about where we’re at right now,” she says, noting she was happy the Justice Department sided with broadcasters this month about the issue. “This was something we knew we had to stand up for.” The Supreme Court is to review the case in late April.

Part of Tuzon’s job is to oversee the standards and practices department for both the Fox broadcast network and cable channels. With boundary-pushing shows such as Family Guy and The Following, as well as the network’s telecasts of fighting outfit UFC—which can push the envelope at times—it can be a challenge to make sure everything is up to FCC standards.

Tuzon admits it’s gotten easier with Family Guy. “Everybody knows at this point what to expect from Family Guy,” she says. With live sports it can be a different story, though Tuzon says they don’t have someone on the bleep button 24/7 for sports events. The challenge, she says, is all about having a “sensibility of what you should and shouldn’t put on the air….Those judgment calls are made every single day.”

Making those calls—in standards and practices, legal and in all phases of her purview—and doing them well puts Fox at a great advantage.

“In a constantly evolving media environment, it takes a dynamic skill set to thrive,” says Peter Rice, chairman and CEO, Fox Networks Group. “Rita not only possesses an extraordinary legal mind, she is also able to rapidly analyze and solve multi-layered business challenges. We are truly fortunate to have her as a member of our senior management team.”

A Northern California native, Tuzon initially wanted to be a doctor, earning her undergraduate degree in human biology from Stanford. She was among the first in her family to attend a U.S. college—her father was a Filipino immigrant.

She chalks up her career choice change to law having a “faster track” to getting a job and realizing she could still accomplish her goals.

“You go into medicine and you’re young and idealistic and want to help people; I found that I could still do that becoming a lawyer,” she says.

Tuzon’s first job out of law school was at a small health care firm, which she calls her “bridge” from studying medicine to law. From there she went to the entertainment and commercial law firm of Hill Wynne Troop & Meisinger as a litigation partner, where she worked with many entertainment clients including Sony and Fox.

After working a case for Fox, she was asked to fill in there for four months while one of their attorneys was on maternity leave. “For me that was like a vacation,” she quips. “I had no intention of staying.”

She did end up staying, however, first as senior VP of litigation for Fox Group. After seven years managing litigation for many of Fox Entertainment Group’s companies, including 20th Century Fox TV, Fox TV Studios, Fox TV Stations, Fox Cable Networks and Twentieth Television, Tuzon became executive VP and general counsel for Fox Cable Networks.

She added broadcast responsibilities in 2008 as executive VP and general counsel for Fox Networks Group, where she has been since.

“When you’re working in the studio you find issues and problems and things going on at a much earlier level where you can actually shape what’s happening,” says Tuzon of the differences from working at a commercial law firm to a studio. “Instead of inheriting a problem you’re trying to solve, you’re solving things before they’re ever problems.”

Education Nation

Outside of work, education is something that’s a passion point for Tuzon, whose mom was a teacher. “There was a very strong belief when we grew up that education was the key to everything,” she says. “I have a very strong support for public education.”

That’s not just talk. Tuzon serves on boards for several education-related organizations, including a peer reading organization where older kids help younger kids read, and Marymount High School, an all-girls school in Los Angeles.

She is also on the executive board of the Legal Aid Foundation, which offers assistance to low-income people.

Tuzon says that in her household, she has limited the amount of TV time for her two children, which is more than she received as a child. “When I grew up, my mom didn’t let us watch TV,” she says. Instead, she had a game night as a kid, something she’s tried to bring over to her family now. Tuzon is well aware that, generally speaking, board games aren’t too popular in today’s technology-infused world.

“In my house, they are,” she says.