People/Biz

Realscreen’s Trailblazers: Fox’s Rob Wade talks brave bets

As 2022 begins and 2021 recedes into the rear-view mirror, Realscreen looks at three executives who have been forging new paths within the non-fiction and unscripted screen content industry — ...
January 26, 2022

As 2022 begins and 2021 recedes into the rear-view mirror, Realscreen looks at three executives who have been forging new paths within the non-fiction and unscripted screen content industry — not only over the course of the past year, but also throughout their careers. Through a deft mix of strategy, innovation and risk-taking, these execs not only serve as transformation agents for their own companies, but also for the business itself. See part one of our Trailblazers for 2021 here.

Rob Wade came to Fox Entertainment in 2017, in a role that hadn’t been filled since Mike Darnell abdicated the presidency of the alternative department at Fox in 2013. In those four years, while there were other executives given oversight for the U.S. broadcaster’s unscripted slate, Fox brought an end to the lengthy run of American Idol on its network (with the competition series resurfacing on ABC) and was in need of a massive unscripted franchise.

Enter Wade, fresh from showrunning Dancing with the Stars and with stints producing The X Factor and America’s Got Talent, as well as heading up TV for Simon Cowell’s SyCo Entertainment. At the time of his hire, the press statement from Wade carried a whiff of premonition: “Fox has always been a pioneer in unscripted television, delivering its boldest and most innovative hits. I am thrilled to be given the chance to work with the best talent in the business, and hope I can add to that legacy.”

In January of 2019, The Masked Singer — an American adaptation of the Korean format King of Mask Singer, brought to Fox by Craig Plestis — made its debut and swiftly sailed to dizzying ratings heights, with the premiere episode being the highest-rated unscripted premiere since The X Factor in 2011. Now in its sixth season, the series has spawned spin-offs, international adaptations, and has galvanized the push for bold and loud formats, not only on Fox but across the broadcast spectrum.

In the fall of 2021, Wade — now also heading up Fox’s in-house studio, Fox Alternative Entertainment — unveiled a US$100 million global unscripted development fund designed to identify and develop future reality hits for the international and domestic markets. The year also saw Fox Entertainment acquire celeb gossip brand TMZ and Gordon Ramsay’s Studio Ramsay shingle. Coupled with new programming that Wade is decidedly bullish about — there are high hopes for a new cooking competition featuring Ramsay, Next Level Chef
— Fox’s unscripted boss sees a bright future for the genre on his network and in general.

“All in all, we’ve made some incredible acquisitions and some brave bets with shows,” he says. “But the next stage over the next three years is going to be a real expansion into creating brand-new IP and hopefully finding hits.”

What were some of your personal highlights from the past year?

Just getting new shows on the air was a huge achievement this year. We’re really proud of the teams and the people working in the industry, from the beginning of the pandemic through to this year, for having the strength of character and skills to create new formats and get them on air. It was very hard to get old formats on air. It doesn’t sound like a huge goal normally, but honestly, just getting new shows on TV was really miraculous this year, and I’m proud that Fox contributed to that.

Tell us more about the impetus and hopes for the global unscripted development fund.

The challenge we have on network television in the U.S. is that it’s limited to primetime, and there aren’t as many slots as you’d like to have to try new things. I think that in opening up the floodgates for creative ideas from around the world and giving producers and networks an opportunity to perhaps try more outlandish and riskier programming, hopefully we’ll be able to reap rewards not only in the U.S. but also in the international market in general.

We don’t have anything formally to announce now [in terms of new projects from the fund], but we are working with a number of different broadcasters on new IP and new ideas that we’re hoping to bring to bear on the networks in the coming year. Any chance to take low-cost programming is going to be accepted whole-heartedly.

What are you looking forward to for 2022?

We’re really very excited about our new Gordon Ramsay show, Next Level Chef, which is premiering in January. It’s the first time Gordon’s done a new cooking competition show in 12 years. We’re looking forward to bringing back Joe Millionaire. We’ve been very fortunate in that I Can See Your Voice launched very well, we’re going into a second season for that, and we obviously have more Masked Singer to come. But overall I’m just really looking forward to being able to get into some sort of normality sometime next year, and being able to get into the studio and make shows.

This story first appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Realscreen Magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click our subscription link for more information.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.