The Biz: Fox's Grushow to become producer

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It was just the kind of twisted, off-kilter show that helped Fox build its quirky brand personality, and Sandy Grushow absolutely loved it.

Grushow, who surprised Hollywood last week by resigning as chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group, was adamant that a no-laugh-track half-hour called "Arrested Development" be part of the network's fall schedule. The show, still percolating with viewers but a must-watch on critics' lists, is part of the network's solid Sunday lineup. If all goes as Grushow says it will, the now-former network executive will be making many more creative decisions, like the lobbying he did for Jeffrey Tambor to play the wacky patriarch of the "Arrested Development" family.

Grushow, who's arrival at Fox four years ago shoved a wedge in what had been a revolving door of executives, is set to become a producer. Whether he really wants to run his own production house or whether it's a place holder until another top executive job opens up remains to be seen. Those who know him say his marketing background-he once headed Fox's promotions and advertising-and creative sensibility make production an obvious choice for him.

passion

"Producing TV is about passion and about knowing what the public wants and how to present it to them," said Tom Sherak, a founder of Revolution Studios, who hired Grushow as a runner at Fox more than 15 years ago. "Sandy has always been very skilled at those things."

One thing seems sure-in the News Corp. structure, there was no place for the ambitious Grushow to go. Corporate titan Rupert Murdoch is said to be grooming his sons for larger roles in the company, and Fox Group Chairman-CEO Peter Chernin, who was Grushow's boss, is set to renegotiate his contract later this year. Those factors combined to create a kind of impenetrable ceiling for Grushow, according to executives close to him. He has publicly denied that he was forced out, even though Murdoch has publicly groused about the network's dismal fall performance. Grushow was negotiating his contract in recent weeks, but switched gears and activated a clause that allowed him to segue into a production deal estimated to be worth eight figures over three years. Grushow was unavailable for comment.

divided duties

Chernin in a statement said Grushow "helped make the network and studio what they are today." He said he would have liked to continue working shoulder-to-shoulder with Grushow but respects his decision.

Grushow's job, which included overseeing both the Fox network and 20th Century Fox Television production arm, will not be filled in the near future, with his duties being split up among network and production execs. Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman will take a much larger role, as the lead creative executive at the network, as well as adding programming, scheduling, marketing and promotions. Gary Newman and Dana Walden, co-presidents of 20th Century Fox Television, will absorb duties there, and will also be the liaisons to Grushow at his new startup, Phase Two Productions.

Grushow had his ups and downs, but under his watch, the network gave ratings leader NBC a run for its money in the coveted 18-to-49 demographic. For the 2002-2003 programming year, Fox finished second after two consecutive sweeps wins.

Then came fall 2003. Viewers didn't latch onto "Skin," a modern day Romeo-and-Juliet with a porn producer at its heart, and they completely ignored the "The Next Joe Millionaire."

Fox is now counting on the third installment of "American Idol" and midseason shows such as "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance," a reality show with a twist-within-a-twist, and "Still Life," a drama told from a dead man's perspective. Still to be determined is whether any Grushow-produced shows will become part of Fox's lineup.

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