Fox enlists Liguori to stir up some drama

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The arrival of an executive to Fox who's brought sizzle to cable with edgy shows such as FX's "The Shield" points to a move away from reality for the News Corp.-owned network.

Peter Liguori, 44, was named March 24 as the new entertainment chief, taking the reins from Gail Berman, who is exiting for Viacom's Paramount. Executives inside Fox have suggested that senior management wants to rely less on the reality genre and picked Mr. Liguori for his drama know-how. For News Corp., having strong drama to license internationally is crucial for increasing profits since reality shows do not bring in the same revenue as a "24." While "American Idol" is great for Fox's domestic ad revenue, the show is co-owned by 19 Entertainment and its distributor, Fremantle International Distribution. Fox still generates revenue from overseas sales of past U.S. hits such as "The X-Files."


In a statement last week, News Corp. President-Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin said of Mr. Liguori: "He's produced more quality drama in the past three years than anyone in the business and has raised the bar for distinctive television."

Mr. Liguori is credited with developing FX into a top-ranked cable network, airing edgy shows such as the critically-acclaimed "The Shield" as well as "Nip/Tuck" and firehouse drama "Rescue Me."

The former advertising executive, who once worked for HBO, comes to Fox at one of the network's strongest periods in recent memory. Fox is in the No. 1 position season-to-date in the 18-to-49 demo. Much to everyone's surprise, "American Idol" increased viewership this season and has also floated other shows into the Nielsen Media Research top 10: medical drama "House" and Paris Hilton's "Simple Life 3." However, Fox is suffering somewhat from the unevenness of its performance year round.

Commenting on what challenges face Mr. Liguori, Jason Maltby, co-executive director-national broadcast at MindShare, part of WPP Group, said: "Fox needs something other than `American Idol' and `24.' Right now it's a first- and second-quarter network and not a third and fourth." Ms. Berman had attempted to institute a 52-week schedule, though Fox had a hard time launching new-season shows with baseball interrupting the proceedings.

For many buyers a change of entertainment president in the crucial run-up to the upfront is a serious upset. Buyers were shown Fox's development slate two weeks ago and are evaluating next year's schedule. However, the change is not unprecedented. Last year, ABC appointed Steve McPherson as entertainment chief, replacing Susan Lyne just as the May upfront began.

former adman

The reality genre isn't going away on Fox, however. The network is prepping the launch of restaurant series "Hell's Kitchen," about 12 contestants competing to win their own eatery, this May.

Mr. Liguori, a Yale graduate from New York, is well known to the advertising community, having worked at Saatchi & Saatchi and Ogilvy & Mather. He's also described as a down-to-earth guy who can manage well up and down.

This is the second time in recent years that Fox has turned to a cable network to fill the post. In 1998 it hired Doug Herzog from Comedy Central, who stayed in the job for two years before returning to Comedy Central.

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