Perhaps the most telling testament to the strength of the partnership forged by Gary Newman and Dana Walden at 20th Century Fox Television is how the two are referred to within the industry.
After 14 years together at the top, their first names have fused into a five-syllable sobriquet pronounced "Gary'nDana," or just as often,"Dana'nGary."
Warner Bros. in size, scope and profitability.
Since 1999, Walden and Newman have turned a shotgun professional marriage arranged by Peter Chernin into one of the most prosperous executive partnerships in showbiz history. The two have presided over exponential growth in the studio's production activity for network, cable and digital outlets. And in recent years, they've taken on more turf within the broader studio by gaining oversight of the 20th Century Fox studio's licensing and merchandising and syndication sales operations.
In reflecting on how far 20th TV has come on their watch, Newman and Walden are quick to emphasize that neither could have done it alone.
"Our business is very dynamic. It's very hard to predict with any certainty what the television business is going to look like three to five years into the future," Walden says. "The prospect of running this studio would be immeasurably more difficult if I didn't have someone to talk to about these issues. Gary and I have an incredibly beneficial, meaningful relationship that has (helped) every step we've taken in growing this organization to where it is now."
There is no doubt, Newman says, that in a business changing as fast as TV, two heads are better than one.
"One of the secrets to the success we've had is that out of the process of two people having to come to a point of view on something, you get better decisions," Newman says. "Dana will say something that I don't agree with, but it forces me to think about it from a different perspective. More often than not, I'll say, 'You're right.' "
The hallmark of 20th TV as a studio is its enviable reputation for shepherding risky creative bets into commercial successes. The tale of "24" is a case study in bucking TV traditions -- and being far ahead of the curve on the boom in serialized drama series.
"Modern Family" was a cutting-edge spin on a domestic comedy that bowed at a time when family laffers were few and far between on network TV. "Glee," with its musical focus and high school setting, was a primetime Hail Mary pass that spurred the studio to become proactive in generating ancillary revenue opportunities through music and merchandising deals.
With "Homeland," 20th TV not only tackled combustible subject matter (the gray areas of America's war on terrorism), but also cracked the code in developing a feasible economic production model for a pay TV channel. It picked up an Emmy last year for best drama series in the process. And in their spare time, Walden and Newman found the way to quench the thirst of the rabid Bluth family fanbase by reviving "Arrested Development" on Netflix.
The studio is also known for its track record in nurturing and investing in creative talent through its formidable roster of showrunners, directors and producers. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were young scribes fresh off "The Late Show With David Letterman" when they landed at the studio with a quirky idea that became "How I Met Your Mother." Steven Levitan and Ryan Murphy had been through their share of
misfires before they connected with "Modern Family" and "Glee," respectively.
Says Chase Carey, prexy and chief operating officer of 21st Century Fox, 20th TV's parent company: "Gary and Dana are simply the best in the business. By any measure, our television studios outshine the competition, and that's clearly a testament to the vision, creative leadership and long-standing partnership of the team at the top."
The growth of 20th TV as a business overall is gratifying to Chernin, the former News Corp. prexy-COO who took a gamble on pairing Newman and Walden. They took the operating reins in December 1999 from Sandy Grushow, after Chernin dispatched him to oversee the Fox network as well as the studio.
Chernin's decision came as a surprise to both Walden and Newman, as well as the broader industry. Neither executive had experience juggling management and operational responsibilities at a high level.