It looks as if the dust is starting to settle over at Fox. Following the high-profile departure of alternative programming head Mike Darnell on May 24, a highly placed source tells The Hollywood Reporter that the network has appointed one of its own to step in and oversee "American Idol" and "X Factor".
David Hill, currently senior executive vp at News Corp. and a longtime fixture at the broadcasting giant where he ran Fox Sports Media Group, shepherded the launch of Fox Sports Japan and served in an advisory role across the company, will take on the more traditional network-producer relationship on the network's two singing competition shows. Hill will serve as the network’s point person for the producers, while at the same time, the search will continue for someone to take Darnell’s place in running reality programming overall.
Chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group Peter Rice and Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly chose Hill because of his experience with live events. Says a source: “They see a strong transition in David. These shows are well-oiled machines in some cases. He’ll serve as the main person from the network who’ll focus on them while a new as-yet-undetermined reality head will focus on development while getting up to speed on everything already in production and the pipeline.”
To “walk in the door” and do both as Darnell had, says the insider, “would’ve been crazy.”
Hill makes for an interesting choice in that he’s known as an experienced dealmaker and does not suffer fools. This is the type of executive who has sat across the table from the NFL, MLB and some of the best negotiators in the business. He has been called “outspoken,” a “swashbuckler,” a “tough guy,” a "mad genius,” “the Roger Ailes of sports” and more in a career that has taken him from his native Australia to the U.K. and to America.
Murdoch moved Hill to the U.S. in 1993 after he bought rights to the country’s most popular sport, NFL football, shocking CBS -- which had held rights for years -- along with the rest of broadcasting and American sports fans.
Hill felt the way sports had been covered was old-fashioned and limited. His idea was that the viewer should see more than the action on the field from one or two angles. He wanted to bring the entire experience -- in front of and behind the scenes -- to the viewer, with more cameras than anyone ever aimed at a game before. He created the catcher cam, the gopher cam, the diamond cam and other unique viewpoints.
Those skills could prove handy when it comes to season 13 of Idol. In season 12, which saw a double-digit drop in ratings, not only did the show receive similar criticism -- for being out of touch with contemporary music and relying on a stale formula -- the show and its production partners FremantleMedia and 19 Entertainment also shelled out more than $30 million in judges' salaries to lock in the likes of Mariah Carey (estimated to have been paid $18 million) and Nicki Minaj ($10 million-plus).
Although the show wrapped less than a month ago, plenty of changes are already afoot, including the departure of longtime executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick. Hill's arrival, however, is aimed at providing a fresh approach and some much-needed stability.
Fox would not comment.
Marisa Guthrie and Alex Ben Block contributed to this report.