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Disney Names New TV Executives and Network Organizational Structure

Amidst cost-cutting and layoff speculation, studio appoints four key Fox executives for top roles once merger is complete.

Ending months of speculation, today The Walt Disney Company officially announced new organizational and leadership plans for its Media Networks operations that will take effect upon closing of the 21st Century Fox acquisition, expected sometime in early 2019.

While the announcement provides for some clarity at the highest studio executive levels, it doesn’t address how much of the combined TV network leadership and operations will remain intact. According to a Deadline report, Disney is looking to shed $2.6 billion through cost-cutting moves that call for TV and film layoffs of at least 2,300 on the Fox side and 1,700 on the Disney side – some insiders reportedly put the number of upcoming layoffs at 5,000-6,000 or more.   

Disney named four Fox executives tapped for leadership roles once the deal closes:  

  • Peter Rice will become chairman, Walt Disney Television and co-chair, Disney Media Networks. He is currently the president of 21st Century Fox and chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group (FNG).
  • Dana Walden will assume the new role of chairman, Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment. Along with Gary Newman, Walden oversees the Fox Television Group, which includes broadcast network Fox Broadcasting Company (FBC); broadcast and cable production studios 20th Century Fox Television (TCFTV) and Fox 21 Television Studios; licensing division Fox Consumer Products; and syndication supplier of off-network programming, Twentieth Television.
  • John Landgraf will become chairman of FX Networks and FX Productions, for which he currently serves as CEO.
  • Gary E. Knell will become chairman of National Geographic Partners, for which he currently serves as CEO.

“The strength of 21st Century Fox’s first-class management talent has always been a compelling part of this opportunity for us,” noted Robert A. Iger, chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company. “Upon completion of the acquisition, this new structure positions these proven leaders to help drive maximum value from a greatly enhanced portfolio of incredible brands and businesses.”

Rice will report directly to Iger. The new organization under Rice will include ABC Television Network, ABC Studios, the ABC Owned Television Stations Group, Disney Channels, Freeform, Twentieth Century Fox Television, FX Networks and FX Productions, Fox 21 Television Studios, and the National Geographic channels.

“I love making television and have been fortunate to work with incredibly talented executives and storytellers,” Rice said. “Disney is the world’s preeminent creative company, and I look forward to working for Bob, and with his exceptional leadership team, to build on that amazing legacy. I also want to thank Rupert, Lachlan and James Murdoch for the privilege of working on such a wide array of movies and television, both entertainment and sports. It has been a wonderful thirty years.”

Reporting to Rice will be:

  • Dana Walden, chairman, Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment
  • John Landgraf, chairman of FX Networks and FX Productions
  • Gary E. Knell, chairman of National Geographic Partners
  • Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer, Disney Channels Worldwide
  • James Goldston, president, ABC News

Walden’s portfolio will include Twentieth Century Fox Television and Fox 21 Television Studios, as well as ABC Entertainment, ABC Studios, Freeform and the ABC Owned Television Stations Group. Ms. Walden is currently Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Fox Television Group.

Reporting to Walden will be:

  • Channing Dungey, president, ABC Entertainment
  • Patrick Moran, president, ABC Studios
  • Jonathan Davis and Howard Kurtzman, presidents of Twentieth Century Fox Television
  • Bert Salke, president, Fox 21 Television Studios
  • Tom Ascheim, president, Freeform
  • Wendy McMahon, president, ABC Owned Television Stations Group

Iger singled out Ben Sherwood, co-chair, Disney Media Networks and president, Disney|ABC Television Group, for praise, saying, “I want to personally thank Ben Sherwood for his years of service at ABC and Disney. Ben has been a valued colleague, and I deeply appreciate his many contributions and insights, as well as his professionalism and cooperation in this transition.” Sherwood supposedly will remain in his current role during the transition period until the acquisition closes.

Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox has received formal approval from shareholders of both companies, and Disney and 21st Century Fox have entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice that allows the acquisition to proceed, while requiring the sale of the Fox Sports Regional Networks. The transaction is subject to a number of non-U.S. merger and other regulatory reviews.

Source: The Walt Disney Company, Deadline

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.