Dana Walden Talks Glee Ratings, Backlash: 'I Fully Believe in This Series'

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Says the 20th Century Fox TV co-chairman, who lands at No. 5 on THR's 2011 Women in Entertainment list: "At some point, it won't feel sexy to take shots at 'Glee' anymore.”

20th Century Fox Television co-chairman Dana Walden lands at No. 5 on the Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment list this week. In February, she’ll celebrate 20 years with the company.

Her accomplishments: Too many to count, but for starters, there’s the Emmy Award-winning Modern Family, the No. 3 show of the fall season among adults 18-49 (second only to football and Two and a Half Men); How I Met Your Mother, up 24% in total viewers since this time last year; and Sons of Anarchy, FX’s highest-rated series ever. Not to mention 20th TV has five new shows on four networks this year, New Girl, Terra Nova, Last Man Standing, American Horror Story and Homeland, each showing strong strides in viewership. And finally, there’s The Simpsons, broadcasting its 500th episode in February. All told, Walden looks after 34 shows currently in production.

But even with beloved classics like The X Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer under her belt, there’s no denying the TV powerhouse that is Glee. Now in its third season on Fox, it remains the No. 1 scripted hour on television among 18- to 34-year-olds, while the worldwide Glee brand, which includes a record-breaking tour, 36 million songs sold on iTunes, 11 top-selling albums and a theatrical concert film, serves as an awe-inspiring example of cross-platform marketing at its finest.
That’s not to say the show hasn’t taken its licks, however, and this year more than ever thanks to casting confusion and an occasional dip in the numbers -- like this week’s episode which saw a 9 percent decline. It’s backlash the press-savvy Walden, herself a former publicist, can’t deny, but she doesn’t make any apologies, either. “I don't think anything in the history of the medium could burn as brightly as Glee and not experience some period of time when the show is not the golden child,” she tells the Hollywood Reporter. “It will be again. I fully believe in this series. I think that [co-creator] Ryan [Murphy] and his team have done exactly the right thing -- you put your head down, tell great stories and continue to produce an enormously entertaining show.”
Walden contends that because the criticism is mostly media-based, it doesn’t speak to the passion of the audience. “They are connected to these characters,” she says. “They read about the actors and the characters online, they collect the DVDs, they buy the merchandise, they are part of a community that connects with each other all centered on one TV show… At some point, it won't feel sexy to take shots at Glee anymore.”

Furthermore, where the ratings are concerned, Walden insists she and her fellow chairman Gary Newman aren’t worried. “When you look at the live plus three and the live plus seven ratings, the show is still doing in excess of a five rating,” she says. “Any company would be thrilled to have that show. I am not concerned about the ratings.

Still, working with creatives like Murphy does come with challenges, and in a way, it’s what Walden lives for. “There's a whole emotional component to working with creative individuals which is unlike most businesses,” she says. “I am not interested in working with a writer who wants to take every one of my notes. I'm looking for someone who will be thoughtful about my input and respect that we are partners, [but] I also want our creators to be emotional, passionate people because those are the people who tell the best stories. Ryan and I have an incredible relationship. We have a tremendous amount of trust for each other. I trust his instincts as much as anyone I have ever worked with. He has this incredible sense of what’s in the zeitgeist.”

What is difficult about working with Murphy? “Saying no to him,” Walden laughs. “He always gets the benefit of the doubt with me. Of the ideas he and I discuss, probably 90% of them I would pursue in some way. He's such a hard worker and so clear about his vision -- that's exactly what you want from a creator. And when he’s set on something, he believes in it completely. Again, it's how I prefer it. I would rather work with someone like Ryan than someone who is purely pragmatic.”

It’s a formula that’s led to Walden’s proudest -- and busiest -- year yet. “I cannot imagine a time in the company's history where we were experiencing success on as many different platforms as we are right now,” she says. “But I've been very happy in my job. I've worked at this company for a long time and it’s been a tremendous experience. Certainly this has been an incredible year for me personally.”

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