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By Suzanne

Dana Walden and Gary Newman

Interview with FOX Executives 5/15/17

Final Transcript
FBC PUBLICITY: The Fox 2017 Programming Presentation Call
May 15, 2017/8:30 a.m. EDT

SPEAKERS

Dana Walden/Gary Newman: Chairmen & CEOs, Fox Television Group
Joe Marchese: President, Advertising Revenue, Fox Networks Group
Eric Shanks: President, COO & Executive Producer, FOX Sports
David Madden: President, Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Co.
Dan Harrison: Executive Vice President, Strategic Program Planning, Fox Broadcasting Co.
Shannon Ryan: Executive Vice President, Marketing & Communications, Fox Television Group

PRESENTATION

Moderator Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the FOX 2017 Programming Presentation Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question and answer session, and instructions will be given at that time. [Operator instructions]. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference over to your host, Shannon Ryan. Please go ahead.

Shannon Hi. Thank so much, Terry. Happy Monday, everyone. I know it’s a super busy week for all of you, so thanks for joining us so early this morning. We know it’s really early on the West Coast, so thanks to you guys for everyone who’s on the call.

We just announced our 2017/18 schedule, and this morning our Chairman and CEOs, Dana Walden and Gary Newman, are here with some of our other executives to take your questions. But before we get started, just a few notes. Today’s press release and our program descriptions and photos are available for download on the FOX site, foxflash.com. The trailer for THE GIFTED is also available on FoxFlash, should you need that, and trailers from all our other shows will be available after our presentation later this afternoon around 5:15. So let’s get started.

Joining us today to talk about FOX’s new season are Chairmen and CEOs of the Fox Television Group, Gary Newman and Dana Walden; President of Advertising Revenue for Fox Networks Group, Joe Marchese; President, COO and Executive Producer of Fox Sports, Eric Shanks; Fox President of Entertainment, David Madden; and Fox Executive Vice President of Strategic Program Planning, Dan Harrison.

With that, I’m going to throw it over to Dana.

Dana Walden Great. Thanks, Shannon. Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining us today. I know as Shannon just said, you’ve seen our schedule. It’s going to be a very busy day for everyone, so let’s just get started. I’m going to briefly go over our topline strategy and our fall lineup and then Gary’s going to take you through mid-season.

This season, we have 5 of the top 15 new shows, LETHAL WEAPON, STAR, THE MICK, 24: LEGACY and PRISON BREAK, more than any other network. With the help of the Super Bowl and World Series, we ended up No. 2 for the season with our most-watched primetime in three years. The past few seasons were about building a foundation of strong new shows, EMPIRE, GOTHAM, LUCIFER, THE MICK, and LETHAL WEAPON, and that success has allowed us to focus more next season on building stronger nights and creating better circulation across our schedule.

Next season we have 17 returning series, that’s more than we’ve had in a decade, and they’ll be joined by six distinctive new shows. As you’ll see from our schedule, there’s a clear strategy for every night. Mondays have always been a great night for big, bold dramas on Fox, 24, PRISON BREAK, LUCIFER and GOTHAM, shows that have greatly benefitted from the promotional platform of Sunday football.

This year we’re taking LUCIFER, which, last fall, grew its time period by 58%, and are going to put it at 8:00 as our lead-in to the new family adventure series, THE GIFTED. This is our first Marvel show. It comes from writer Matt Nix and director Bryan Singer. It’s a perfect fit for FOX. It’s big. It’s cinematic and commercial and it tells the emotional story of a family on the run when they learn their children have mutant powers. THE GIFTED will greatly benefit from LUCIFER, but also has multiple entry points of its own, families, genre viewers and Marvel fans.

Then on Tuesday, we’re looking at LETHAL WEAPON. It was a self-starter for us, leading into EMPIRE on Wednesdays this season. It performed well all year, even through the EMPIRE bridge. It’s our No. 2 show after EMPIRE and averages 11 million viewers. We’re going to be moving it to Tuesday at 8:00 to kick off the night and to platform THE MICK. We’re really big believers in THE MICK. It’s a bold concept and Kaitlin Olson has just been amazing. She’s a comedic force. It’s a show that got funnier every episode and we really see enormous potential in it. It takes comedy a while these days to find its audience, so we’re going to be putting everything we can behind this show. Having LETHAL WEAPON at 8:00, we’ll deliver a big audience and with BROOKLYN NINE-NINE immediately following, we’ll have a great night of action and comedy.

On Wednesdays, we’re reuniting EMPIRE and STAR, two great music-infused shows that are perfectly matched tonally and thematically. This is another example of us using our strongest shows to strengthen a young show we believe in. EMPIRE is the No. 3 show on broadcast. It’s the No. 2 drama and delivers the best live lead-in across all of broadcast. When we aired these shows together in December, we saw very strong duplication and reached more than 16 million viewers.

On Thursdays we see an opportunity for growth with younger men. At 8:00, we’re going to start the night with another returning favorite, GOTHAM. It held its own against “Big Bang Theory” and football on Mondays this year, so we’re going to capitalize on its really loyal male fan base to feed into Seth MacFarlane’s new show, THE ORVILLE, and this is really Seth’s passion project. It’s a big, broad, funny accessible hour. The pilot was directed by Jon Favreau and Seth has an enormous following. We’re giving THE ORVILLE a big push out of the gate by launching it after two NFL doubleheaders, before it moves to Thursday.

On Friday, HELL’S KITCHEN and THE EXORCIST perform well together, so we’re going to keep that night intact. And on Sunday, football drives a huge audience to FOX, where we’re the premier destination for young adults, and, this season, we’re adding one new show to our successful lineup. We think viewers are going to love it. It’s GHOSTED. It’s got two big comedy stars at its center, Adam Scott and Craig Robinson. They’re friends in real life and you can really feel that, because they have great chemistry. It’s going to air at 8:30, bookended by THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY. Again, it’s another illustration of scheduling compatible shows to generate circulation and flow.

Now I’m going to hand things over to Gary.

Gary Newman Thanks, Dana. Good morning, everyone. For midseason let’s start with dramas. We’re excited to have THE X-FILES return for a ten-episode installment. It was such a great success for us last year, 20 million viewers for its premiere, creating massive enthusiasm and circulation to our schedule.

Next we have THE RESIDENT. It’s a distinctive medical procedural that centers on three doctors at different stages of their careers. It’s a provocative look at the world of medicine. It rips back the curtain to reveal the truth of what really happens in hospitals. We’ve been looking for our next hit medical drama since HOUSE, and think THE RESIDENT can really break through.

9-1-1 is a rapid-fire procedural drama seen through the eyes of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, and stars the amazing Angela Bassett. It looks at the lives and careers of first responders, the people who put their lives on the line to save others.

Moving on to comedy, LA TO VEGAS is a workplace comedy set on a commuter jet that flies between LA and Vegas each weekend. The creative pedigree on this show is fantastic; Lon Zimmet, Steve Levitan, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay are all executive-producing. It stars Dylan McDermott, who delivers a performance that will be the surprise of the season.

Lastly, we’ll showcase the seventh and final season of our beloved comedy, NEW GIRL, from the brilliant Liz Meriwether. We’re so proud of this show. It’s a quintessential FOX series and the impact it’s had in our live-action comedy brand cannot be overstated. So we wanted to give it, and its loyal fans, the proper sendoff it deserves.

On the live musical front, in December, we’ll air our next event, A CHRISTMAS STORY. It’s based on the Tony-nominated musical and classic holiday film. We’ve partnered with GREASE: LIVE and “La La Land” producer Marc Platt to oversee it, with “La La Land’s” Oscar-winning songwriting team, Pasek and Paul, handling the music.

In 2018, we’re also working with Marc Platt and the estate of composer Jonathan Larson on a live adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical RENT. We’ll start casting both projects soon.

So we’re looking forward to next season. We have big new shows from some of the best creators in the business, big stars, big live events and a new music-infused Wednesday.

With that, we’re happy to take the questions.

Moderator Thank you. [Operator instructions]. Our first question will go to Matt Mitovich with TV Line. Please go ahead.

Matt Good morning, everybody. Just looking for a status on the pilot LINDA FROM HR, as well as the futures of 24 and SCREAM QUEENS.

Gary Hi, Matt. LINDA FROM HR is definitely still in consideration. When we get back to L.A. we’re going to meet on several of our pilots. We had a great crop of pilots this season. Choosing between them was difficult and LINDA FROM HR had a great star at the center in Lauren Graham. So we will be talking about that when we get back.

24: LEGACY, we were so happy with the creative on that show. We think Corey Hawkins did a great job. Replacing Jack Bauer was no easy feat and he really stepped up on it. As you probably know, Corey is on Broadway right now, Tony-nominated for his role in “Six Degrees of Separation,” so his schedule wouldn’t really allow us to consider the show for the fall. So it’s very much still in the mix. It’s another show we intend to talk about when we get back to Los Angeles with the showrunners.

Finally on SCREAM QUEENS, SCREAM QUEENS was an anthological series. Ryan told the story of a group of characters he created. Over the course of the two seasons, it feels as if it was a complete story. We have no plans at this point to go back there and tell more stories. So we won’t be seeing SCREAM QUEENS this season.

Matt Thank you.

Moderator Next we’ll go to the line of Gary Levin with USA Today. Please go ahead.

Gary L. So what about PRISON BREAK? Is that something you would continue, or do you feel like that was just another limited series and that’s the end of it?

Dana Hi, Gary. Yes, we would definitely consider doing more episodes of PRISON BREAK. There’s nothing in the works right now. Really what prompted us to do this last installment was Paul Scheuring coming in to us with a great take on where these characters are and what a season might look like. I know they’re thinking about it. It’s definitely not something we want to do every season. We want to make it special. So at the point they come to us with another idea, it will be seriously considered. We actually loved this season and the characters are beloved.

Gary L. Okay. So just to clarify, 24 nor PRISON BREAK, neither one has been canceled, but you haven’t committed to doing more yet.

Dana The only difference I would say is PRISON BREAK was announced as an event series. We didn’t bring it back intending to do consecutive seasons. On 24, Howard Gordon has spent the year in Spain with his family. He was involved at the beginning, and in launching the show, but we haven’t had the opportunity to sit down with him and talk about what another season would look like for him. So, that combined with Corey being unavailable at the beginning of the season, just made it clear to us that there was no reason to rush. Again, we weren’t considering it for fall because of Corey’s play.

Gary L. Okay. Thanks, Dana.

Moderator Next we’ll go to the line of John Ourand with Sports Business Journal. Please go ahead.

John Hi. I have an NFL question. It’s no secret that ratings were down last season. What are you doing to try to get that turned around? Is there anything you can do with the NFL to try to get those ratings going the other way?

Eric Shanks Hi, John. Thanks for having a sports question. It gives me a reason to be here.

John I’m here for you, Eric.

Eric I think that the league clearly got almost all the partners off to a really strong start. If you look at our first six weeks, pretty tremendous. We’ve never had double headers in week one and two to start off the season before. They placed what was the most popular game of last season, Green Bay/Dallas into week five. So we feel really good about the schedule getting off to a great start.

Post-election last year, the league-wide ratings were actually flat, so it kind of rebounded by double-digit percentage points post-election. So I think there’s no doubt that the NFL ratings are going to turn around and I think FOX, in particular, has great strength early in the season and probably our best double-header schedule we’ve ever seen.

Moderator Next we’ll go to the line of Michael Schneider with IndieWire. Please go ahead.

Michael Hi, everyone. Hi, Gary and Dana. Good morning. Both of you have been on the record in the past saying that you thought it was a little too soon to bring back “American Idol,” but, of course, the franchise was brought back to market anyway. I know you kicked the tires. Talk about that and ultimately your feelings on a franchise that meant so much to FOX ending up on another network.

Dana There are a lot of questions there, Mike.

Gary Tricky.

Dana It’s obviously a tough one for us. We loved “American Idol.” It’s so connected to the FOX brand and there was a tremendous amount of success for everyone on this show for 15 years. So yes, it feels bad knowing it’s coming back on another network. I would say it was a bit of a complicated process over the past year, trying to figure out whether we were interested or not. We sat down with Fremantle just a month or two after the end of the show and they were determined to get this show back on the air as quickly as possible.

The ratings bounced back a little bit in the final season. We spent about $25 million sending a clear and persistent message that it was the Farewell Season and fans responded and the ratings ticked back up. It felt to us sitting in those initial meetings with Fremantle like it would be extremely fraudulent to bring the show back quickly, that our fans would not appreciate being told one thing and then have the show brought back right away. We and Fremantle just had very different points of view.

The last conversations that we had with them, frankly, before we decided to declare it the Farewell Season, were about the fact that the ratings over the four years prior to the final season had dropped almost 70%. There was clearly a ratings trend. It was not going in the right direction. The network was losing an enormous amount of money and we had asked them if they could make trims. They felt, which is very much their right, that they didn’t want to take significant trims. They didn’t want to try to test out a new panel. They felt it took a long time to find the chemistry that existed with Jen and Harry and Keith. They ultimately said to us they would rather rest the show after this season than make any changes and try out a different panel and we respected that. That’s when we decided to call it the Farewell Season.

So after those initial conversations, we heard pretty quickly that they were in conversations with NBC, which, actually, made sense to us, because that gave them access to Simon Cowell. I think the show missed Simon towards the end of its life on FOX. They have a deal with Jennifer Lopez, as well, and so that made sense to us, but it really made us focus on the fact that, notwithstanding we thought it was too early to bring the show back, and all of our research and all of our fan forums supported that notion.

We did not see the fan excitement and enthusiasm for the show to come back that Fremantle did. We just had a different set of facts. But contemplating losing “Idol” and having it go to another network, we did make an offer. Fremantle was definitely not interested. There were definitely conversations about how “Idol” might work with Fremantle’s other show “America’s Got Talent” over at NBC, and ultimately that fell apart.

We really believe that, over time, whatever Fremantle’s issues were with us or the fact that we didn’t want to bring it back so early, would be resolved, because they seemed committed, as well, to resting the show.

Then I think probably all of you saw RTL’s earnings call last week. They lost revenue from not having this show on in the U.S. That’s meaningful, when you’re running a public company.

And, all of a sudden we were made aware of conversations with ABC to bring the show back in ’18, which again, that will put it off the air for one season. We again felt like this is way too soon. We tried to engage Fremantle in conversations about bringing it back in ’20, which is when we thought would be an appropriate amount of time off the air and give the creators and the producers the opportunity to make some changes to present the next generation of “Idol” and they just weren’t interested in it. At that point, they had made a determination that they wanted it back on the air and they thought ABC was a good opportunity.

Moderator Thank you. Next we’ll go to the line of Joe Adalian with Vulture. Please go ahead.

Joe Hi. I guess the next question would be, right now, FOX doesn’t have a big tent-pole reality franchise. It’s the one thing that you’re lacking that—other than Gordon Ramsay, which I should give him credit. He does very well and MASTERCHEF JUNIOR has certainly performed well doing that multi-night thing that other networks seem to be able to do and really help fill some holes.

That leaves out there two possibilities, if you guys wanted to go in the music space, would be to create your own franchise, or possibly take another stab at “The X Factor,” which does still have Simon Cowell involved. Is “The X Factor” something that you’ve considered? Are you considering another big music reality franchise? Do you think the music reality franchise is sort of been there/done that, let’s try to find something else?

Gary I think FOX is probably known for a music brand more so than other networks, with shows like EMPIRE, STAR, even going back to GLEE. “The X Factor” was on FOX for a couple of seasons and there are no discussions at this point about bringing it back. We think we can grow our unscripted brand.

Of course, you mentioned Gordon, but Gordon does an amazing job for us. He’s a great partner and we’re very excited about his new show this summer, THE F WORD WITH GORDON RAMSAY. We’d like to also expand our brand beyond that. We brought in a new head of unscripted a few months ago, Rob Wade, who spent a number of years running “Dancing With The Stars” and has a great deal of experience on a number of shows both here and in the U.K., and executive-produced “The X Factor” here in the U.S., as well. So we’re going to be looking at all forms of unscripted.

Music is certainly one of the ones we’re looking at. Instead of looking back, and looking at a show that’s been on the air before, we think it’s important to find something that feels new and distinctive and moves that genre forward, and that’s going to be our focus in the music space.

Joe Thank you.

Moderator Next we’ll go the line of Caryn Robbins with BroadwayWorld. Please go ahead.

Caryn Yes, hi. I had a question about RENT. Obviously, the musical deals with mature themes and contains profanity. I was just wondering if you had plans as to how you will make it more family-friendly. I know there is a special edition of the show performed in high school. Is that possibly what you will be presenting?

Dana Yes, there is that format of the show. We really haven’t spoken yet specifically about what the show will be. We really just closed our rights about a week ago. We’ve had conversations with Marc Platt. I will tell you that both of my teenage daughters, this is their favorite show. Again, they have seen it through high school productions. I know there is a version of this show that will pay tribute to Jonathan Larson, and will be true to the themes of the show. We’ve certainly covered similar themes in shows that we’ve presented over the years. We’re not going to shy away from it, but it’s going to be something that is appropriate for our platform.

Caryn Terrific. Thank you.

Moderator Next we’ll go to the line of Dominic Patten with Deadline Hollywood. Please go ahead.

Dominic Just a follow up, guys, to the previous question about “American Idol.” So you guys did consider a 2020 reboot of the show and you saw that as being significantly different from how the show was when it departed last season?

Dana We saw ’20 as being a respectful amount of time to wait in between rebooting “Idol” for fans who heard our message clearly that we presented a farewell season. So I wouldn’t say we discussed radical changes to the format, because, honestly, Fremantle does not want to change that show and perhaps they shouldn’t. They have a very clear vision of the strengths of the show and they are the producers.

I don’t know ultimately where Simon Fuller came into the picture in terms of conversations about altering the format that he created, but our conversations were more about what’s a respectful amount of time and less about specifically what will that show look like.

Dominic Thank you.

Dana Sure.

Moderator Next we’ll go the line of Mike Hughes with TV America. Please go ahead.

Mike Yes. Putting EMPIRE and STAR on the same night is really logical, but I think the thing holding it back before was neither one had that many episodes. There was only like 16 episodes or something like that. How are you going to do it this year? How many episodes of each one? And will it just be part of the season or will it be two mini-seasons? How will you work it?

Gary We’re going to have 18 episodes of each series this year. As we’ve done the last couple seasons, there will be a break at mid-season. These shows, as you can imagine, are really challenging to produce. In addition to normal TV production, you’re doing an entire music production that is time consuming. So we will be on right through the fall with originals and then take a break and come back in March and run out the balance of the season on both shows.

Mike Okay. Thanks.

Moderator [Operator instructions]. We’ll go to the line of Brian Steinberg with Variety. Please go ahead.

Brian Good morning, folks. Hope you’re all doing well. This year we’re hearing a lot about a need for new measurement and new kinds of ratings. I’m wondering how FOX feels about these total content measures from Nielsen and things we’re hearing from various media buying agencies. Where do you guys see ratings falling out as this season kind of moves along in terms of what people want and how you should be reporting it?

Joe Marchese Well I can speak to the total content ratings. We have obviously withheld looking at bringing Nielsen into that, because we weren’t comfortable with the measurement comparisons between television and digital. We do believe that because our stories are platform agnostic, our measurement should be platform agnostic, but it has to be on equal footing. So we’ll be looking at alternatives.

Gary Just to be clear, that was Joe Marchese.

Joe Thank you.

Dana Hello?

Cynthia It’s Cynthia.

Dana Hello, Cynthia.

Cynthia Sorry. We’re sitting here in the same office listening to you on the speaker. I’m shoving in a second question. Couldn’t help but notice that all of your series orders come from 20th Century Fox TV. There’s obviously been a push not just at FOX, but other networks, for ownership and controlling the content that’s on your air. Can you talk about that? Was it kind of an organic coincidence or was it a strategy this year?

Gary I wouldn’t call it organic coincidence, but it is clear if you look across our industry, the media companies are more and more focused on vertical integration and owning the shows they have on their networks. It’s understandable. The economics are very challenging for networks and having the revenue streams that a studio can provide are important to make sense out of these shows.

That being said, finding hit television programs is incredibly challenging, probably more so now with the 500+ scripted series that are being produced across all platforms, than it’s ever been before. So we continue to be open to content from any source. This year, it isn’t surprising that our series orders came from our studio. Most of our pilots, all but one, came from the studio.

If you take a step further back than that to the script development, the majority of our script development came from our studio, and that really was organic. This was, as I said, a tough year on developing programs because of how busy writers were working on all of those programs that are in production. So there was actually less script development and certainly less quality script development than I think we had seen in a number of years.

That being said, we put some great projects into development. When it comes to ordering pilots we are not looking at the name of the studio on the front page of a script. We’re really looking for what we think gives us the best chance to develop projects that can ultimately become successful series. This year that was the ones that came from 20th Century Fox Television.

Dana I will add, Cynthia, though, from the studio side of our business and just having our studio hats on, it is more important than ever to us right now that we continue to be the home to the best creators in the business, and to able to do that you have to offer creative freedom. You can’t tell Dan Fogelman, Ryan Murphy, Seth MacFarlane, Liz Meriwether, Lee Daniels, you can only develop for one network.

I think part of the attraction to our studio is that we look at each of the projects and we try and make a determination about where they can be their best version, and I think that’s why you see we have “This Is Us” on NBC, “Modern Family” on ABC, “Life in Pieces” at CBS, a variety of other shows at ABC and throughout cable. It remains an important part of our business, because of how important those creators are to us. So we are going to continue developing for outside networks. as well as for ourselves.

Moderator Our last question will be from Ellen Gray with Philadelphia Enquirer & Daily News. Please go ahead.

Ellen Hi. More than ever it’s hard to tell what’s canceled because things might come back. What would be, for instance, a respectful time if you were to bring back a special event of “Bones?” I mean, just as an example.

Dana “Bones” is a good example. There are so many factors that go into whether you can bring a show back. One right now would be that David Boreanaz is on a show that was just ordered by CBS. So as long as that show is in production, there’s probably no chance of a “Bones” reunion.

But we have used, as sort of a guiding light of which shows to bring back, which great creators have come in to us with great new stories to tell about those characters. So if Hart Hanson or Stephen Nathan came in to us at some point over the next few years with a compelling reason to revisit the world of “Bones,” we would probably do it.

Ellen But you don’t really think of shows as being permanently over.

Dana It’s just a case-by-case basis. There are some shows—and I just can’t think of them right now—that I would say RIP, they’re probably gone forever. When you look at our roster of shows at the studio, we’ve been in business with so many of these creators for such a long time. These shows are so long-running, and they’ve had the opportunity, through streaming services, to be introduced to an entirely new generation of viewers. So that does make it feel like an event, reuniting characters from a very long-running show.

I would say “How I Met Your Mother,” one of the greatest shows ever in our library at the studio, at some point I would hope we will have the opportunity to reunite those characters and tell new stories, if Craig and Carter had the desire to do that. It’s not every show, but a beloved show that is still being consumed all over the world, that’s an interesting opportunity for us.

Moderator Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude your conference call for today. Thank you for using AT&T Executive TeleConference Service. You may now disconnect.

Shannon Thanks so much.

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