Fox CEO Rob Wade Believes “Challenging” TV Business Is Starting To “Right-Size” Itself, Eyes The Next ‘Family Guy’, ‘Gladiators’ Second Window & More “Sexy Rebels”

Rob Wade has been in charge of Fox for just over 18 months, a period that coincided with the fallout of the pandemic and two strikes in Hollywood.

But the Brit is optimistic that while the television business is challenging, it is starting to right size itself after a period of heavy spending by streamer rivals.

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In a wide-ranging interview with Deadline, ahead of his keynote session at the Banff World Media Festival, Wade talked about the company’s recent restructure, a new windowing strategy, trying to find a “silver bullet” in animation, comedy hits and big unscripted swings.

Don’t worry, there’s also a bit of Baywatch.

“I know it’s challenging, but things are changing. We’re very much open for business, doing interesting creative deals and the business is right sizing itself, that’s a good thing. We’re trying to refocus how we do things and be a bit more realistic about what is possible after the market ran away from itself,” he said.

Wade points some of the blame for the state of the market on big spending streamers.

“I’m trying to think of a polite way of saying it, [the business] has been broken. It was disrupted and broken by the streamers. It was people playing with house money, making shows for way too much money, way too much content, and then locking it behind gates,” he added.

“Now, it’s definitely coming back. That’s why I think I’m optimistic because I think the licensing game is back. I think that people are being realistic about what they’re spending, which is going to mean less content in the marketplace, which means we’re going to get a greater opportunity, because our shows will stand out because there’s less competition. Marketing money is going to be spent more efficiently because we’re not competing against 100 other things. It’s readjusting. We’re coming back to a place of equilibrium again.”

In March, Wade restructured the company’s content and business operations into three groups, the Fox Television Network, Fox Entertainment Studios and sales arm Fox Entertainment Global. This led to new roles for Michael Thorn, who is now President of the Fox Television Network, and Fernando Szew, who is Head of Fox Entertainment Studios.

“Five years ago, we started a new company. We built up slowly, during Covid and during the strikes, and different people took on different pieces of the business. We started to scale and we were just in a really a little bit of a funny place. It wasn’t clear, both operationally and creatively. I just felt it was important that we define ourselves. We’re not encumbered by having our own SVOD service, having to reach X amount of profit from it, we can be smaller, we can make different types of deals and it felt like the right time to do that,” he said.

Fox Entertainment Studios now produces scripted shows including Animal Control and new comedy Going Dutch, starring Denis Leary.

Wade said that he would love this division to continue making multiple shows for the network, as well as being able to buy from outside studios. “You want to control your own destiny. You need to own IP and we want to make things as efficiently as possible,” he said.

He added that there was potentially one other drama coming from Fox Entertainment Studios for next year, without providing details.

Fox Entertainment Studios has direct deals with a number of creators including Burn Notice creator Matt Nix, 50 Cent, Marc Cherry, McG and Carol Mendelsohn. Wade admitted that he “wished things happened quicker in TV” but that this strategy was starting to bear fruit and that he was seeing an increase in conversations from the creative community as the overall deal market has softened somewhat in recent years.

“Creators are coming to us because they want to come somewhere where they still own a piece of the show. They understand they have to work within more cost-efficient parameters now, and they maybe won’t get as much and they won’t spend as much on that show. But they’re coming to Fox because of our independence,” he added.

One of Fox’s interesting strategies that has just started on screen is windowing shows from rival streamers. Deadline revealed earlier this year that Fox had taken a second window on Amazon’s U.S. reboot of British game show The 1% Club, hosted by Patton Oswalt. That show launched last week on Fox.

Wade is now looking at other titles, including Amazon’s latest reboot of Gladiators. He said certain streamers, particularly Amazon Prime Video and Max, are now open to these opportunities, both in unscripted and scripted.

“We’re talking a lot about it. We have to make sure we have our schedule available and also obviously we have a Hulu relationship. We’ve got to make sure to balance that,” he said. “In a world where IP is king, and it’s very difficult to break through with new shows, that’s obviously a very key piece. You get marketing, you get exposure to a very different audience, and you get a reduction in cost, which is really valuable.”

In December, Fox kicked off a new international strategy with psychological crime drama Murder in a Small Town, starring Rossif Sutherland and Kristin Kreuk. The show will be produced in Canada.

Wade said due to the relative cost of such a show that in order to be a success, it doesn’t have to get the same ratings as other titles, such as 9-1-1: Lone Star.  

Talking of the Rob Lowe-fronted emergency drama, Wade wouldn’t be drawn on whether season five would officially be its last season. However, it’s clear that Fox is in negotiations with Disney-owned 20th Television. A decision is expected over the next couple of months. “We’re seeing where that goes. It’s a conversation between network and studio. I’ve seen a few shows out there that are canceled and then come back. Until we get to a point where we really know what’s happening with that show, I’m really excited about it in the fall. It’s got great creative, Rob Lowe keeps sending me videos of him lassoing things off the back of trucks so that looks great,” Wade said on the panel.

He added, “If you’re a vertically integrated show with a studio and a network, these [legacy] shows make sense. Up until a certain point. Then there are financial issues with it. Where we are in the business at the moment, is that there’s still a mistrust between representation, I’m talking about agents and managers, and the networks in terms of what a show can cope with in terms of cost. I think it’s something that can only be proven as you see these shows go. If a show is leaving a network and the numbers are good, no one is doing it out spite, it’s because there are financial complications. Secondly, it means that if you don’t have certain shows on your network, it leads to opportunity.”

Wade pointed to The Masked Singer coming up after Fox had canceled American Idol.

Elsewhere, in animation, Fox has had success with Krapopolis and just renewed its new series Universal Basic Guys for a second season. Wade said he was “encouraged” with its animation strategy and is hoping to find the next version of The Simpsons or Family Guys.  

“I don’t think we’ve got the silver bullet. Five years ago, we started building this strategy, we were crawling but now we’re starting to walk. That’s how early I think we are. But I do think we are on the right. trajectory, I think the things that have happened in the business around us have helped us position ourself where I think the silver bullet will just be a great piece of creative will be something that was never thought of, that blows up, that’s relatable, scalable both domestically and internationally,” he said.

The network is also continuing to develop The Flintstones spinoff Bedrock. He said that his team was looking at new scripts. “That’s a really interesting one. It’s a piece of IP, a Warner Bros. property, so it’s different from what we’re doing elsewhere, but we really like it and we’re asking how it fits into our legacy animation [strategy].”

Fox is leaning into what it does best, a strategy of finding “sexy rebels”. “We’ve got animation, we’ve got cooking with Gordon [Ramsay], we’ve got game shows and music, which is synonymous with Fox. You want to own those areas. We’ve got signature characters, people who are going to be a little bit brash, sexy rebels,” he said.

Talking of unscripted, Fox is responsible for arguably the last big broadcast reality show – The Masked Singer, which is heading into its twelfth season.

But it’s been a tough marketplace for unscripted producers. “Unscripted has to do two things; it has to understand where it came from, which was part of the schedule but it was cost efficient. A lot of the older shows, a lot of people are taking a lot of money from those shows. If you take a lot of money from those shows, networks and streamers have less money to spend on new shows, so you’re getting into a difficult situation with these older shows where you can’t do without them, but they’re really hurting the pipeline and that’s a challenge,” he said.

Fox shoots a lot of its unscripted titles in Ireland and other territories in order to help bring down costs. “The answer is to find more cost-efficient ways to make these shows. We should free up more money to launch newer shows. That’s just one piece. There is a second piece, which is creative, we are due bigger ideas,” he said.

Wade wondered where the next version of The Apprentice, Dancing with the Stars or American Idol is coming from, something that some of its streaming rivals are also asking.

On the comedy side of things, one of its recent priorities was to find another show to pair with its Joel McHale series Animal Control. It has now done this with Going Dutch with the two shows airing as part of a comedy block in 2025.

But he admitted that comedy is tough. “Everything’s hard at the moment. You have to be patient with it. But if you get it right, funny is money. You have to persevere with these things. Everyone’s really trying, it’s just difficult to crack comedy. There’s been fewer comedy movies out there. I don’t think people still are accounting for Covid. I don’t think people have accounted for last three years and the effect that’s had on the creative community and the psyche of everyone,” he added.

On the drama side, one of its big bets is Rescue HI-Surf, a Hawaii-set lifeguard drama from John Wells. That series was recently handed seven additional episodes ahead of its launch. That beach drama could also be joined by another famous lifeguard series – Baywatch.

Deadline revealed in March that the reboot, which comes from Fremantle, had landed at Fox with a significant script plus penalty commitment.

Wade said that the outlines are in and scripts have been read by my team. “It’s encouraging and I’m really excited to read that.”

But he said that networks need to balance well-known IP with original stories. “I would like to see as much original content or swings as I can. That’s when you get you know, the magic, whether it’s E.T., Jaws or This Is Us. You have to leave room for that. I do worry when I see too much legacy content on networks. There’s certain shows on other networks, which I know are very expensive. They’re spending money on that and they’re not spending something on something new. As a buyer, you have to keep your eye on it,” he added.

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