As Disney Sale Looms, Fox TV Chiefs Are Said to Discuss Extending Contracts

Posted May 15, 2018 3:15 p.m. EDT

It has been one of the most pressing questions in the TV industry: Will Fox TV chiefs Dana Walden and Gary Newman head to Disney, or will they strike out on their own when their contracts expire in a couple of months?

It may be a little longer before that question is ultimately answered.

Walden and Newman, the co-chief executives of the Fox television group, are in advanced talks to extend their contracts with Twenty-First Century Fox for an extra year, according to three people briefed on the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing.

The new deal would give Walden and Newman time to figure out whether they will stick with the Fox broadcast network, go to Disney with much of Twenty-First Century Fox’s entertainment assets or look for other jobs. It would allow Walden and Newman to stay until a deal is closed and would give them flexibility to leave sooner or stay later depending on when the sale is completed. Their current contracts with Fox are set to expire this summer.

The Walt Disney Co. reached an agreement for most of Twenty-First Century Fox’s entertainment properties in December. That deal is awaiting regulatory approval. Things could get complicated depending on the outcome of the Justice Department’s lawsuit to stop AT&T’s merger with Time Warner, or if Comcast, which made an offer for Fox before Disney did, goes ahead with a hostile bid.

However, barring those hiccups, the Disney deal could be completed within a year.

Walden, who is known to have a deft hand with talent and is the godmother of the star showrunner Ryan Murphy’s children, is one of the most powerful female executives in the television industry. She has run the broadcast network with Newman since 2014, and they have run Fox’s TV studio together for almost two decades.

But in the time since they’ve run the broadcast network, Fox has not been able to climb out of a years-long slump that started when ratings for “American Idol” began to crater. The studio’s biggest recent hit, “This Is Us,” airs on NBC.

If Twenty-First Century Fox is sold, the studio that Walden and Newman have curated for so long will be in unfamiliar hands. Fox, known for its edgier programming, and ABC have considerably different brands, and a transition to Disney could be tricky for Walden and Newman. Meanwhile, the Fox broadcast network will be in the awkward spot of having to navigate a future without an aligned studio providing new shows. The network will have to look elsewhere for content, meaning its programming will likely be heavy on sports, live events and reality television. The so-called New Fox would consist of the broadcast network, the Fox Sports channels, some local TV channels and Fox News. Some analysts have taken to calling this potential version of Fox “the stub.”

Earlier this year, Walden briefly spoke to Amazon for its chief entertainment job before pulling out. The position ultimately went to Jennifer Salke, a former colleague of Walden’s.

On Monday, Walden and Newman presided over Fox’s annual upfront presentation for advertisers. The event was muted, by the usual glitz-and-glam standards of the upfronts, featuring lots of talk about future sports rights for Fox.

Walden, who started her career in public relations, has been with Fox for decades.

“It was a little stunning, having worked there for such a long time and having worked so closely with the Murdochs,” Walden said this year of the sale to Disney. “It just didn’t seem to me like that was on the table.”

The fallout of the deal has already begun. Murphy, the executive producer behind “American Crime Story” and “Glee,” has already made a $300 million deal to go to Netflix. He showed up at Fox’s upfront presentation Monday, but his new deal with the streaming service begins in six weeks.