Fox executives: scripted series will survive Disney deal

PASADENA, Calif. — The Fox broadcasting network, home to “The Simpsons” and “The Orville,” will continue to air scripted entertainment after the Fox TV studio’s sale to Disney, Fox executives said Thursday.

The pending deal that will separate the Fox network and 20th Century Fox studio won’t turn the network into a platform solely for sports and other live programming, Fox Television Group chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman told TV critics Thursday.

Speculation about the network’s future arose after Fox founder Rupert Murdoch talked about so-called “New Fox” as an entity for news and sports. But he was referring to the company overall and not specifically the broadcast network, the executives said.

Shows on Fox will remain on Fox and there is no plan to move them to Disney-owned ABC, Walden said. While Fox will no longer have an in-house sister studio it will be able to take greater advantage of shows from outside producers, she and Newman said.

The executives declined to speculate about how they would be affected by the sale, saying they were focused on the work at hand.

“Whether we ultimately end up at Disney, stay at Fox or end up somewhere else,” for the year or more it will take to close the sale they will remain at Fox overseeing the studio and network, Newman said.

Last month, Disney announced it was buying a large part of the Murdoch family’s 21st Century Fox for about $52.4 billion in stock, including FX Networks, film and TV studios and cable and international TV businesses. The deal doesn’t include the Fox network and Fox-owned stations, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, FS1, FS2 and Big Ten Network.

Addressing the sale as “the elephant in the room or, in our case, the mouse,” Newman said he expects it will pass regulatory muster in fairly quick fashion and that it will be business as usual for the next 12 to 18 months as the process plays out.

“I would be lying if I said there wasn’t anxiety” over the sale from those working with Fox, Newman said. But he said Disney executives are “enormous fans of our brand” and he predicted that the future bodes well for Fox’s creative partners.

Among the more prominent is Ryan Murphy, who gave Fox the series “Glee” and newcomer “9-1-1” and is a hitmaker of edgy fare (“American Horror Story,” ”American Crime Story”) for the FX Networks.

In a call with Disney CEO Robert Iger following the deal, “I said point blank the stuff I do is not specifically Disney,” Murphy said of the company with a family-friendly image. “I’m concerned about that. Am I going to have to put Mickey Mouse in ‘American Horror Story,'” he recalled asking Iger.

The Disney chief reassured him that wasn’t the case and that it was buying Fox because it believed in its creators and assets, Murphy said. While he said he’s taking heart from how companies such as Pixar and Marvel have fared as part of Disney, the producer said he’ll see how things pan out before making any decisions.

In a separate Q&A with critics, producer Seth MacFarlane (“The Orville,” ”Family Guy”) said he received a similar call from Iger.

With the deal, Disney aims to better compete with streaming services including Netflix and Amazon that are eating into the traditional TV model. By taking over Fox properties including the Avatar movies, “The Simpsons” and Marvel characters such as X-Men and The Avengers, Disney will have a well-stocked larder when it launches ESPN- and Disney-branded streaming services in the coming years.

Walden said she was initially “shocked” by news of the deal, but that quickly turned to optimism.

She has a “very clear view of what kind of opportunity this is and how protective the Murdochs were about making a decision about Disney when they had another companies courting them,” she said. (AP) Photo by Tony Webster