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Fox’s Legal Eagle: Corporate Counsel Tuzon at Center of the Action

1/25/2010 2:00 AM Eastern

Rita Tuzon
Executive Vice President and General Counsel
Fox Networks Group

Fox general counsel Rita Tuzon was at the center of the company’s contentious retransmission consent negotiations with Time Warner Cable in late 2009. Fox Networks Group chairman and CEO Tony Vinciquerra said she was the right woman for the job.

“These counsel positions have become more and more important over the years as the contracts become more and more complicated and get negotiated more intensely, and more pressure is put on the lawyers to make sure we are protected” from all the rapid technological changes that are reshaping the industry, Vinciquerra said.

“Rita is just the best in making sure we cover all the bases as we look at how things could change and will change,” he added.

TuzonWhile the complexity of some of these legal issues could easily slow down, if not paralyze, a business, Vinciquerra also praises her for finding ways to help them move quickly to capitalize on new technologies.

“Many times the counsel becomes the how-to-avoid-business department,” Vinciquerra said. “Rita has figured out a way to make the counsel area supportive of our businesses as opposed to getting in the way of business.”

Today, as executive vice president and general counsel for the Fox Networks Group, Tuzon is one of the most powerful women on the legal side of the television industry, overseeing all legal matters, as well as standards and practices, for the broadcast network and cable networks run by the Fox Networks Group. That includes such national services as FX, Speed and National Geographic Channel, as well as Fox Sports Net, its 19 regional channels and the Big Ten Network joint venture. (Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network are separately run.)

Despite that success, the law wasn’t Tuzon’s first career choice. In college she had planned to be a doctor, graduating from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in human biology in 1981. She decided, however, in her senior year to take the LSAT and was admitted to the University of California at Berkeley’s Boalt School of Law.

After graduation, she worked at a firm specializing in health care and then joined Hill Wynne Troup and Meisinger, which represented many of the Hollywood studios, including Fox.

“The week I arrived at the firm was the week Johnny Carson’s work arrived at the firm, and I started working on it,” Tuzon recalled. She also continued to work in a number of other areas outside of entertainment law. “As an outside lawyer, my attitude was always that you do the work that comes to you,” she said.

As Tuzon rose to be a partner at the firm, some of that work was with Fox. She joined the company full-time in 1997, after one of its lawyers went on maternity leave. For the next seven years, she was senior vice president of litigation for the Fox Group and in 2004 was put in charge of business and legal affairs at the Fox Cable Networks. In 2008, she assumed her current post, overseeing both broadcast and cable services.

During those years, Fox’s television business underwent a fairly dramatic expansion. “I started officially the same month that the company bought New World, which expanded the TV stations,” she recalled. “Then a few months into my career here, we started our cable business, and I took responsibility [for the legal side] of it.”

Throughout those years, she’s also worked to help the company respond to the rapid technological changes and to find the right balance in the increasingly complex negotiations over online video and other digital rights. Those challenges require long hours and hard work, which Tuzon said have been the keys to her success.

“My attitude has always been that if you work hard and you get the job done and you are always there for your clients, the opportunities will come to you,” she said. “I never sought out one of the jobs that I’ve had [since she joined Hill Wynne Troup and Meisinger]. The work has come to me, and I think they’ve come to me through hard work.”

Embracing this old-fashioned work ethic to tackle 21st century legal and technological challenges is also her main advice to younger women entering the legal or entertainment industries. “You make your name through hard work,” she noted. “That will stand you in greater stead than anything else.”

While Vinciquerra praises her for finding the right balance between her career and family, Tuzon admits that this high wire act isn’t easy, given the fact that she has two younger children and she is married to a very well-known litigator, Rick Stone.

Interviewed during the final stages of the Fox-TWC negotiations, Tuzon joked, “I could lie and say it is all very easy. But the truth is that I don’t always get enough sleep and last night I got none.

“My children are relatively young [aged 7 and 11.] They need time with me, and I need to be there for them,” she added. “Managing that isn’t easy. I’m always available to every executive through phone and e-mail. I developed that ethic at my firm. It is an outside lawyer ethic, and that means a lot of balancing. But everyone has conflicting things that they have to balance. You find a way to make it work, and I’m determined to make it work because it is of the utmost importance for me.”

 

September