Rupert Murdoch shook up Fox's movie and TV businesses today, his first moves since News Corp. deputy Peter Chernin stepped down. The biggest winner: Peter Rice, who's going from overseeing Slumdog Millionaire to American Idol.
As always with Murdoch, personal loyalty trumps business. The biggest loser in the reshuffle is Peter Liguori, who's been pushed out as the entertainment chairman of Fox Broadcasting, overseeing the Fox prime time schedule. It was Chernin who put Liguori in the job in 2005, promoting him from the job overseeing the FX cable network.
Replacing him is the Brit ex-pat Rice (on the left with Danny Boyle), and currently the head of specialty film label Fox Searchlight. For a studio exec, Rice is well-liked and affable enough. Also, Searchlight has been one of the only companies to consistently profitably play the Oscar game, backing this year's Slumdog Millionaire and last year's Juno.
But he struggled to succeed outside that boutique business. When Rice was approached in 2006 to take over Paramount's specialty business, Murdoch was so set on keeping him that he let him launch a whole new film division, Fox Atomic, which was meant to court young men. But the venture quickly proved to be a bust; its first film, a remake of Revenge of the Nerds was cancelled in the middle of production. Last year, the unit was scaled back dramatically, and today's memo doesn't bother mentioning it.
What Murdoch's memo also doesn't mention is that Rice's father was a friend and business partner of Murdoch's back in England and it was that connection that landed Rice his first Fox job back in 1989. Murdoch writes in his memo, "Peter has the vision, creativity and determination to grow and remodel our television network." Rice has never worked in TV, so who knows? But Murdoch has always been more comfortable running News Corp. as a family business than the conglomerate that it is. Apparently, he still is.