Charlie Collier with Rob Lowe and Gina Torres of 911: Lone Star
As Chief Executive Officer at Fox Entertainment, Charlie Collier has a full plate, but he still finds time to be the ultimate Fox lot tour guide.
"Have you had the tour here?" he asks. Without waiting for an answer, he climbs into a cart sitting just outside the office building where he works and immediately points out that the nearby fountain served as a background in Modern Family, while the entryway has been used as a hospital entrance in many a series.
"I learn something all the time about this place," he admits while steering the cart up and down the lot's fifty acres. "When people come in to see me from other locations, instead of sitting in the office, I like to say, 'Let's get out and walk around this lot.' If you had told the twenty-year-old me that twenty years later, I'd be allowed to call this place home, I'd never have believed it. Working here is pretty great!"
As he weaves the cart past some of his favorite sites — Marilyn Monroe's old bungalow, Shirley Temple's schoolroom, the stages used for The Sound of Music, the New York Street (currently being renovated), the giant Young Frankenstein mural, the bungalow favored by the lot's stray cats — it's easy to understand why the first corporate offsite retreat Collier organized after assuming the CEO mantle was actually held on the lot.
Given his fervor for Fox, it's hard to believe Collier has only been a part of the company since 2018. That's when Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch asked him to leave his job as president of AMC, Sundance TV and AMC Studios to take over what was then Fox Broadcasting, after the Walt Disney Company's $71 billion purchase of 20th Century Fox, 20th Century Fox Television and FX Networks.
"[Murdoch] said, 'We're about to start a new company and we think you're well-suited for it,'" Collier recalls, sinking into his office couch rather than sitting behind his desk. "That was probably because of my history combining the creative and business sides. Then he said, 'Would you like to be CEO of the new entertainment company?' Boy, the combination of his vision and my desire to be part of that change and to define what a network could be for the future... that was a good call!"
Collier set to work a few months before the Disney sale became final in March 2019. One of his early moves was to change the Fox Broadcasting moniker to Fox Entertainment, signaling how multifaceted the new company would be.
For his part, Murdoch seems pleased with the results so far. In an email, he said in part, "Charlie and his team have done a fantastic job executing a unique and creative strategy in entrepreneurial ways to maintain a world-class and profitable entertainment business. [He] has deftly used our broadcast leadership to build and support emerging businesses.... The result is a portfolio that position[s] us well for future growth, which is a testament to Charlie's vision and expertise."
With viewership shrinking and audiences heading to streaming channels, it might seem counterintuitive to take a job overseeing a broadcast network, but that challenge is precisely what attracted Collier, who splits his time between Los Angeles and New York.
"If you believe in launching platforms and businesses and brands, you think about the power of broadcast — even today," Collier says. "The people with seemingly all the buzz and all the money and data still put the biggest amount of their advertising in broadcast because they know the impact of it when it comes to reaching the masses. I feel the power of that, and the responsibility of that, every day."
Collier recounts that in his initial conversation with Murdoch, they "talked a lot about this now being like a startup company" — but one that maintained the network's "broad reach and combination of sports and entertainment" to keep advertisers faithful to the broadcast model. And the major events coming up on the network schedule — among them, the Super Bowl, the World Series and the World Cup — would allow the new entity "to create that launching pad that builds brands and businesses," he says.
In a way, running a broadcast network completes the circle for Collier, a father of four who grew up in New York's Westchester County "when gathering around the TV set with your family was still a thing... I remember my dad's chair," he says, "and where we all sat when we watched." The family enjoyed shows like All in the Family, M*A*S*H and Fantasy Island, and Collier remembers being a kid who "absorbed popular culture as much as I could at all times." He was also a tennis player, and later taught the sport to help cover expenses at Bucknell University.
Visions of a career in television played in his mind during college. Once, at a New York Knicks game, he handed comedy sketches he'd written to Lorne Michaels. But his plan, post-grad, was law school. Then a road trip changed everything. He and a friend — both New York Mets fans — bought an old Volkswagen van and headed west to see the country and to visit every National League baseball park along the way.
Collier brought along his first-year law books to get a head start on torts and contracts as they traveled, but one night he leaned down from the van's top bunk to tell his buddy that law school was off. He wanted instead to work in something "closer to sports or entertainment." His friend's dad was a media buyer, so Collier was able to get some names and numbers for people in the industry. He called them from stops on the road (this was before cell phones), trying in particular to reach a woman who worked for the media sales firm Telerep.
"I called her from Houston," he says. "We drove to Albuquerque, and I called her again. Then I called her when we got to San Diego. She finally picked up and said, 'You didn't leave a number. Who are you?' I told her my friend's dad told me to call, and she said to contact her when I got back home. I ended up getting a job as an assistant at Telerep, and the rest was history."
The young Collier saw sales as "the sweet spot" blending art, commerce and storytelling, and his time at Telerep led to A&E Networks, where he helped get the History Channel off the ground. He also squeezed in business school, earning an MBA from Columbia University.
Oxygen Media was just forming, a company he believed was "ahead of its time" with its focus on both female-centric programming and the internet, so Collier made the leap there before finding his way to Court TV as executive vice-president and general manager of sales. He became key to the rebranding that eventually turned the channel into TruTV.
"It was evolutionary to say we were not going to be about trial coverage anymore," he explains. "We separated daytime programming from primetime and said we're going to be like the" "'investigation channel.' We're going to do these engaging mysteries from 6 p.m. on, and we took the channel from what was all court coverage to what it became."
In 2006, he moved to AMC as general manager and became president two years later. The channel was originally known as American Movie Classics, but as someone who "likes transformation and change," Collier made it his mission to "move AMC from being [strictly] a movie network to being about the best movies, but side by side with originals that could feel like movies every week."
Essentially, the goal was to make AMC the HBO of basic cable and "create an environment where people wanted to bring their passion projects." During his dozen years there, he helped guide pivotal series like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead onto the air.
Producers who work with Collier say he's earned a reputation as one of TV's most forward-looking network executives, thanks to an approach that echoes the medium's past.
"He's old-school," says Howard Gordon, executive producer of 24 and Homeland as well as the upcoming Fox series Accused. "What I mean by that is, he trusts in the creative people and has the humility to understand what he can and can't control. Once he supports you, he's all in. He'll give his thoughts on a project but knows his place in the storytelling chain. He doesn't buy an apple and expect you to deliver cotton candy. He just wants what you're creating to be the best apple."
Melissa London Hilfers, creator–executive producer of the fall series Monarch, says Collier is always "so engaged" when discussing her show. For instance, when they first met, she told him she planned on eventually wearing an emerald-green dress to the Emmys." A full year later, when Collier visited her during production, "He asked me, 'Are you hunting for that emerald dress?' That's who Charlie is. He's always listening and always present."
This faith in creators inspired one of Collier's priorities at Fox: moving into "acquisition and partnership" by expanding Fox Entertainment's production and distribution capabilities. To that end, he's worked with chef–TV creator Gordon Ramsay to form a new production company, Studio Ramsay Global. "I was absolutely blown away with Charlie," Ramsay says. "I've been at Fox for quite a long time and seen various changes of leadership. Walking out of my first meeting with him, I felt at ease and really excited about the future of Fox — even more so than I did with my first shows with the network."
Also during Collier's tenure, Fox has purchased the ad-supported streaming service Tubi, the production company MarVista Entertainment and the animation studio Bento Box, with which Fox has launched Blockchain Creative Labs to help creators and advertising partners build and sell non-fungible token (NFT) content.
The network's core schedule remains a priority, and Collier is confident that the 2022–23 lineup reflects the "rebel roots" that the network displayed in its first primetime slate in 1987, with series like Married... with Children and The Tracey Ullman Show. The way he sees it, programming is all about taking chances, especially given current conditions.
"You do have a choice to avoid controversy," he says. "You do have a choice to not bet on the unknown creator or not put on a show that feels small. If all you care about is the overnight rating, you don't make that bet."
Collier is betting on series like The Cleaning Lady, a drama about a Cambodian doctor (Élodie Yung) who emigrates to the U.S. and finds herself working for the mob to help her seriously ill young son. He believes it's "a really brave broadcast show," at least in part because "It's so diverse on every side of the camera." At its debut in January, The Cleaning Lady became the network's highest-rated new show. Collier expects even bigger things this fall as the series digs into "what it means to need healthcare for a loved one and what it means to break the rules for the right reasons."
In September Fox will launch Hilfers's Monarch, a primetime soap set in the world of country music. It follows three generations of a country dynasty headed by Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins, whose daughter (Anna Friel) is trying to save the family legacy. From Beverly Hills 90210 to Melrose Place to Empire, soaps have been key to Fox's success over the years, Collier notes, and he sees Monarch as the next in that line.
"We talked a lot about [Friel's character] Nicky," Hilfers says. "She's a woman in her early forties and a powerhouse who can't be stopped. She's a signature Fox heroine. Early on, Charlie was asking a lot of questions about what drives her. He really engages and cares about the characters in a way that's surprising and cool. He's like a kindred spirit as an executive."
Perhaps Collier's boldest gamble for the new season, though, is" "Howard Gordon's Accused. Based on a British series, the anthology showcases a different defendant in court each week, and their backstories reveal how they ended up on trial. Collier promises the show will do "things on broadcast that you won't see everywhere else," while Gordon appreciates the Fox boss' "trust your gut" approach with this format-busting series. Collier "understands the audience," Gordon adds, "and realizes they're not meant to be condescended to. He knows they don't just want more of the same."
That attitude is so important to Collier, he's enshrined it in a mural hanging behind his desk. Created by artist Peter Tunney, it features author–screenwriter William Goldman's famous phrase about Hollywood's lack of creativity — "Nobody Knows Anything" — with the words composed of images from all the shows Collier shepherded onto AMC after others had passed on them. The mural's placement is no accident. It instantly communicates to producers on the other side of the desk Collier's vision for Fox Entertainment.
"It is saying, 'What are you curious about? What do you love? What are you passionate about?'" Collier explains, gazing at the artwork from the couch where show creators sit. "My interest is in them. My interest is in the art and the artist. I love supporting them. I have a lot of stories I want to tell, and I love when I can help round the edges. When someone walks in the door with an idea, and they can leave ten years later with accolades and a great platform.... I've seen it happen multiple times, and my small part in that describes me. I like leaving things better than I found them."
THE CEO ON A&P
Under Charlie Collier, Fox Entertainment has been moving into new acquisitions and partnerships.
An Emmy-winning animation studio founded in 2009, Bento Box is responsible for such Fox series as Bob's Burgers, The Great North and Duncanville (the last of which wrapped in June after three seasons). Fox Entertainment bought the company in August 2019 to help the network "fortify [its] animation business," Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier says. "They do adult animation better than anyone on the planet."
In addition to traditional animation, Bento Box and Fox are entering the non- fungible token (NFT) market with a new unit called Blockchain Creative Labs. It will provide content creators, IP owners and advertising partners with the means to create and sell NFTs. Initial projects include setting up digital marketplaces for Krapopolis, an animated comedy from Dan Harmon, and for World Wrestling Entertainment.
"The next paradigm shift is going to be on the blockchain," Collier says. "It's" "going to be about individual relationships that a fan can have with the artist or the art. And curators like Fox will help it emerge and will play a different role in it."
Launched in 2014 as a free, ad-supported streaming service, Tubi was purchased by Fox Corporation for $440 million in April 2020. As of January 2022, it reportedly had 51 million active users who choose from more than 40,000 classic movies and shows, along with news and sports provided by Fox-owned stations and affiliates.
Following the Fox acquisition, Tubi boosted its slate of original programming with several horror/thriller films; it will eventually expand to include projects such as new live-action and animated shows featuring the classic claymation character Gumby (whose rights Fox recently obtained). One thing Collier won't be doing, though, is abandoning Tubi's commitment to remaining a free" "service with advertising. As he puts it, "We can now tell stories and support our advertisers in a different way."
Having landed Tubi, Fox Corporation needed a studio to generate original content for the streaming service. So it bought MarVista Entertainment in late 2021. The Los Angeles–based production studio already had a library of more than 2,500 hours of programming, which has now found a home on Tubi. It is also stepping up production to send a steady flow of new programs to the streamer.
"MarVista allows us to produce as a studio in a way that is very different from before the Disney transaction," Collier says. "They are an efficient provider of content for Tubi and will do over thirty original movies this year. And that will scale up. They're also bringing a discipline to us, as a brand-new studio, that we can use across all the other platforms and Fox Entertainment." —C.T.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #8, 2022, under the title, "Driving Force."