New Fox TV chiefs look for showmen to rescue network

The U.S. network is currently experience a slump in its ratings

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Producers capable of making “big, bold” series such as Fox’s freshman drama “Empire” are key to rescuing the network from its ratings slump, its top executives said Friday.

Dana Walden and Gary Newman, the longtime CEOs of the 20th Century Fox studio, last year were named co-chairs of the Fox Television Group that includes the studio and network. They took over a broadcaster that's No. 4 in the ratings and has fading shows, including one-time powerhouse “American Idol.”

“It’s going to be an uphill battle” that must include hiring the best talent, Newman told a Television Critics Association meeting Saturday.

One of the first steps was luring back Ryan Murphy, the creator of Fox’s outgoing series “Glee” who in recent years has focused on cable TV series including “American Horror Story,” he said.

Murphy’s contribution will be “Scream Queens,” a comic horror anthology with an ensemble cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Lea Michele of “Glee,” Joe Manganiello, Abigail Breslin and Keke Palmer.

Fox has been meeting with another producer known for showmanship, Simon Cowell, said Walden and Newman, but provided no details about what's under discussion.

Cowell, the music executive, former “American Idol” judge and producer of series including NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” and “The X Factor,” which lasted just three seasons on Fox, is a “talent magnet,” Newman said.

Drama series “Empire,” about a family struggling for control of a music business, exemplifies the kind of series that Fox needs, Walden said, announcing that it's been renewed for a sophomore season just two weeks after its debut.

“Fox has for a long time had a reputation for big, bold shows that break out but feel broad and appealing,” she said. “I would hope ultimately that the network is recognized for great showmanship. I think that’s what we've seen with ‘Empire’” at this early point.

The Batman prequel “Gotham,” another freshman series, and sophomore comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” also have been renewed, the executives announced. They also filled in two casting blanks for the 2016 TV version of the movie musical “Grease,” with Julianne Hough playing Sandy and Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo.

The broadcast will be live, following in the footsteps of NBC’s hit “The Sound of Music” and less successful “Peter Pan.”

Walden and Newman also reflected on what they've gained by taking over the network.

“(We’re) glad to have the chance to meaningfully control our own destiny,” Walden said, with control over the scheduling and marketing of the shows they make for Fox (like other studios, it also produces series for other networks.)

The Fox Television Group is “really working,” Walden said.

So is the 15-year professional relationship she and Newman have, even with the added responsibilities. She gave a peek into how closely they work together: Her husband is used to falling asleep as she and Newman hold nighttime meetings on the phone.

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