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2ND WRITETHRU (new info throughout): When Rupert Murdoch orders a shakeup, it’s an earthquake to Hollywood. I now hear that stunned Peter Liguori met with senior staff to say a classy goodbye — and then chose to leave the building within 15 minutes of this afternoon’s announcement of his firing. ”I don’t care how much you ever prepare for anything, those words are always a shocker,” one insider tells me. “He felt there was no reason to hang out.” And no one expected Fox Searchlight’s Peter Rice to move from movies to TV and take his place. (My analysis of it below.) But otherwise, the speculative scenario I’d been hearing since Peter Chernin announced his News Corp resignation came true:

Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairmen Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos are getting big promotions. They’ll now oversee all TV production, with 20th Century Fox Television Chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman reporting to them, as well as all film production. Tony Vinciquerra, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Fox Network, will take control of all the TV stations and broadcast and cable including F/X and Fox Movie Channel.

But the news that veteran TV exec Liguori is out and movie exec Rice in as Fox Broadcasting’s Chairman of Entertainment, reporting to Vinciquerra, dumbfounded everyone. (I never heard even a whisper about this, only speculation that Rice would be rewarded with running 20th Century Fox.) Rupert Murdoch himself in a just released memo offers no explanation except to say: “As part of this restructuring, Peter Liguori has stepped down as chairman of entertainment, Fox Broadcasting. Under his leadership, Fox was the number one network four years in a row, and I am grateful for his many contributions.”

Now here’s what I’m being told about it: that Liguori was perceived as a business type, and Vinciquerra is also a business type. And therefore there was no reason for two of them when what’s needed in that job is a creative type reporting to Vinciquerra. And that’s what Rice has been and will be. So Liguori got screwed. One big question now is where Rice will have his office: on the 5th Floor like Sandy Grushow did with Murdoch and Chernin. Or the 4th Floor which Gail Berman never left and where Kevin Reilly currently sits.

“Has Peter Rice even ever worked in TV?” one top TV agent phoned me to ask. The answer is no. But, c’mon, Rice has done a brilliant job with Fox Searchlight with hits like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno and this year’s Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. Although certain people inside Fox think his lieutenants don’t get enough credit. “Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula are as responsible for the success of Searchlight as Rice is,” one of my sources snarks.

These same naysayers also point out that Fox Atomic, which now reports to Rothman and Gianopulos, has been “a disaster” even though “it was created as a bone for Peter Rice. He’s always overseen it, and it hasn’t done well. Though Debbie Liebling runs Atomic day to day, it has reported in to Peter and been downsized tremendously because of its failure.”

Yet no one thinks the learning curve is that steep for Rice to start hearing TV pitches, least of all Rupert Murdoch who said in a memo that “Peter has the vision, creativity and determination to grow and remodel our television network, and I’m delighted he has accepted this new challenge.”

But also don’t forget that Peter Rice, who began working at Fox as a summer intern in 1989, and Rupert Murdoch have a very special relationship. I once was told that Rice’s father helped Rupert conquer the newspaper unions once upon a time, and, as a result, Murdoch looks upon Peter like a son. So the conventional wisdom is that Peter Rice is being groomed to be the next Peter Chernin. And to do that No. 2 News Corp job, he’s got to know TV inside and out.

reillyliguori.jpgIt will be interesting to see how this affects FBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly, who had a long personal and professional relationship with Liguori. Probably not much, that is if you overlook the fact he was passed over for the top gig. “He’s a very strong and opinionated creative exec. He’s come in to the network and hasn’t screwed it up,” one top agent analyzes. “But also he currently micromanages the network so much that you couldn’t get rid of him overnight.”

I hear Reilly and Rice had a good meeting today. “At least this is a bright guy with a hell of a track record. Kevin could be in the same position with a political idiot,” one insider notes to me.

As for Fox Searchlight, Rupert Murdoch points out in a just released memo that “Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula will jointly run the business, reporting to Jim and Tom. Nancy and Steve, COOs of Fox Searchlight, who have been Peter’s partners through all of the unit’s great successes, will assume full authority for the business. Claudia Lewis, president of production, remains in place.”

About the shakeup overall, Murdoch says: “Today I’m announcing a series of management changes to our LA-based businesses to ensure we’re well positioned to meet the challenges and opportunities we will face in the coming months. I have been deeply engaged with senior management to develop a renewed model on which to further grow and transform our business. Challenging economic times can yield great advancements and ultimately unleash new, innovative thinking. Ours is a company that has always thrived on change, so it’s with great enthusiasm that I share with you our initial plans for moving forward.”

Concerning Fox film and TV production, Murdoch says, “This new creative structure will enable us immediately to operate more efficiently. We will remove unnecessary barriers that have existed between our businesses, thereby better facilitating the sharing of ideas and resources. Not only will we benefit as a business from these changes, but perhaps most importantly, I’m certain our end users – the millions of people around the world who every day enjoy our creative products – will see the benefits as well.”

Rupert also points out that continuing to report directly to him are Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of FOX News Channel and Fox Business Network and chairman of the Fox Television Stations and Twentieth Television, and Peter Levinsohn, president of Fox Interactive Media.

Here’s the official news, and below that, a memo from Rupert Murdoch:

Los Angeles, CA, March 12. 2009 – News Corporation Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch today announced a restructuring of the Los Angeles-based Fox businesses to capitalize on management strength and to position the businesses for future creative and economic growth.

“We have – simply put — the best management team in the entertainment industry. Today’s restructuring, by removing barriers between businesses, will enable us to better share ideas and resources, allowing us to make the most of this team and the talent that populates our ranks,” Mr. Murdoch said.

Beginning immediately, the Los Angeles-based creative production divisions will be combined under a single unit reporting to Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, co-chairmen of Fox Filmed Entertainment, whose leadership has propelled the studio to record breaking profits during their lengthy tenure with the company. Twentieth Century Fox Television chairmen Gary Newman and Dana Walden will report to Mr. Gianopulos and Mr. Rothman. Emiliano Calemzuk, president of Fox Television Studios, will report to Mr. Newman and Ms. Walden.

On the television network side of the business, Tony Vinciquerra, chairman of the Fox Networks Group, will continue to head the cable networks, the business aspects of FOX Broadcasting, Fox International Channels, and will gain responsibility for FOX Broadcasting programming. Mr. Vinciquerra has been a key architect of Fox’s tremendous growth in cable over the past decade.

As part of the restructuring of the network business, Peter Liguori will be stepping down as chairman of entertainment, Fox Broadcasting, effective immediately. Peter Rice, president of Fox Searchlight, will exit his post at the specialty label, and take on the role of chairman of entertainment, Fox Broadcasting, reporting to Mr. Vinciquerra.

“Peter Liguori has been an outstanding Fox executive, not only in leading FBC for three seasons, but in his groundbreaking programming that helped build FX into a general entertainment leader. We wish him continued success,” Mr. Murdoch said.

“Peter Rice is one of our most talented creative executives, having championed such films as Slumdog Millionaire, Little Miss Sunshine, and Juno during his tenure at Fox Searchlight. As we increasingly look to apply unconventional approaches to our traditional businesses, I’m convinced Peter Rice is the right person to transform our broadcast television business.”

With Mr. Rice’s departure at Fox Searchlight, Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula will jointly run the business, reporting to Mr. Gianopulos and Mr. Rothman. Nancy and Steve, COOs of Fox Searchlight, who have been Mr. Rice’s partners through all of the unit’s great successes, will assume full authority for the business. Claudia Lewis, president of production, remains in place.

Mr. Gianopulos, Mr. Rothman, and Mr. Vinciquerra will report directly to Mr. Murdoch. Peter Levinsohn, president of Fox Interactive Media, will also report directly to Mr. Murdoch. Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of FOX News Channel and Fox Business Network and chairman of the Fox Television Stations and Twentieth Television, will continue to report to Mr. Murdoch.


Here is the memo from Rupert Murdoch:

Dear Colleagues:

Today I’m announcing a series of management changes to our LA-based businesses to ensure we’re well positioned to meet the challenges and opportunities we will face in the coming months. I have been deeply engaged with senior management to develop a renewed model on which to further grow and transform our business. Challenging economic times can yield great advancements and ultimately unleash new, innovative thinking. Ours is a company that has always thrived on change, so it’s with great enthusiasm that I share with you our initial plans for moving forward.

Creative Production
Effective immediately, all of our LA-based creative production businesses will be reporting to Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, co-chairmen and CEOs of Fox Filmed Entertainment. Tom and Jim have built one of the most successful studios in the world, and I have full confidence in their ability to manage our film and television talent in transformative ways. Under this new structure, Gary Newman and Dana Walden, co-chairmen of Twentieth Century Fox Television, will report to Tom and Jim. Emiliano Calemzuk, president, Fox Television Studios, will report to Dana and Gary.

This new creative structure will enable us immediately to operate more efficiently. We will remove unnecessary barriers that have existed between our businesses, thereby better facilitating the sharing of ideas and resources. Not only will we benefit as a business from these changes, but perhaps most importantly, I’m certain our end users – the millions of people around the world who every day enjoy our creative products – will see the benefits as well.

Networks Group
On the television network side of the business, Tony Vinciquerra, chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group, will continue to head the cable networks, the business aspects of FOX Broadcasting, Fox International Channels, and will gain responsibility for FOX Broadcasting programming. Tony has been instrumental in growing our cable businesses both domestically and internationally, and has been responsible for negotiating many of our landmark carriage and broadcast deals that have made us the leader in broadcast and cable television. As part of this restructuring, Peter Liguori has stepped down as chairman of entertainment, Fox Broadcasting. Under his leadership, FOX was the number one network four years in a row, and I am grateful for his many contributions.

Peter Rice, president of Fox Searchlight, will exit his role at the specialty label and will assume the role of chairman of entertainment, Fox Broadcasting. During his long and successful tenure at Fox Searchlight, Peter has been the driving force behind the success of the specialty film genre, shepherding to the screen some of the industry’s most successful films, including Slumdog Millionaire, Little Miss Sunshine, and Juno. Peter has the vision, creativity and determination to grow and remodel our television network, and I’m delighted he has accepted this new challenge. In this role, Peter will report directly to Tony Vinciquerra.

With Peter’s departure at Fox Searchlight, Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula will jointly run the business, reporting to Jim and Tom. Nancy and Steve, COOs of Fox Searchlight, who have been Peter’s partners through all of the unit’s great successes, will assume full authority for the business. Claudia Lewis, president of production, remains in place.

Other
Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of FOX News Channel and Fox Business Network and chairman of the Fox Television Stations and Twentieth Television, and Peter Levinsohn, president of Fox Interactive Media, will continue to report directly to me.

Please join me in congratulating Jim, Tom, Tony and Peter in their new roles.
Rupert Murdoch

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