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Would You Give These Kids $150 Million to Start a TV Network? Rupert Murdoch Did

Little Rascals: The Kids Behind America’s Fourth Network

The young man about to address the TV camera looks grim. Sitting behind a table, wearing a navy ­blue blazer with four brass buttons, an Oxford blue shirt, a brick-colored tie, he could pass for an anchorman about to re­port a national tragedy. A very tired anchorman: his tan has gone sallow under the camera lights, the circles under his eyes beg for pancake. His back tensing up, he scans his notes: “Good evening, Dayton.”

Some older Fox Broadcasting execu­tives in the Los Angeles studio are watch­ing him, murmuring out of earshot. The young man, Garth Ancier, is taping a message to an affiliate station that will be holding a promotional party that night. “I’d like to welcome the Miami Valley and all of southwestern Ohio to the Fox family,” announces Garth. He looks mis­erable. Take two.

Just about 51 weeks ago, Garth Ancier was the subject of an extraordinary bidding war between Goliath and Goliath. The losers were his employers, Grant Tinker and Brandon Turtikoff, former chairman and current president respec­tively of NBC, where Garth had risen to vice-president of the network’s comedy division. The winners were Barry Diller and Rupert Murdoch, chairman and shop owner respectively of Fox Broadcasting Company (FBC). They wanted Garth, now 29, to take charge of all program­ming on what they hope will become America’s fourth network. His contract began April Fools’ Day, 1986.

FBC made its headline-grabbing debut back in October with its contender for the weeknight 11 p.m. slot, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers. On Sunday, April 5, FBC will launch its attack on the Big Three’s primetime programs. Its strategy is to establish beachheads one night at a time, beginning with Sundays (Saturdays are targeted for late spring). So far, 105 affiliates are standing by, schedules cleared away, waiting for the results of a year’s worth of apocalyptic rumors, 16-hour days, many millions of dollars, and Garth’s own highly touted instincts. Will Fort Wayne switch to Channel 55? Is America ready for FBC?

Is FBC ready for America?

Garth puts on his glasses, scans his notes again, removes his glasses. A slen­der six-footer, with dark brown hair and eyes, he radiates intensity as he squares off for another go-round with the camera. This time he appears to have lowered his narrow shoulders a full quarter of an inch. One older Fox executive mutters, “It’s okay to laugh and smile, Garth. This is for a party.”

His comrade, another executive, re­torts, “You wouldn’t be laughing either, if you had only a month to live.”

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It’s been 39 years since America last witnessed the birth of a network (ABC, April 19, 1948). The moment still doesn’t seem propitious for a fourth network. Advertising rates are soft, budget cuts merciless. Since the late ’70s, the networks’ share of viewers has declined 15 per cent — not only because of competition from VCRs and cable, but because the networks are clones of one another. The industry quip is that there’s scarcely enough programming for two and a half networks.

Although 637 stations still pledge alle­giance to the networks, the number of independents has nearly doubled in the last few years, to 275. And the indies are product-hungry. They’ve turned increas­ingly toward “first-run syndication”­ — new, independently produced shows like Entertainment Tonight and Wheel of Fortune, which compete well against the Big Three in non-primetime slots.

Enter Rupert Murdoch, former owner of this newspaper, present owner of 20th Century-Fox and sundry other empires. Last year he purchased Metromedia’s seven independent stations (including New York’s Channel 5) for $2 billion. Together with 20th Century’s Barry Diller, former studio head of Paramount and perhaps the last man in Hollywood you’d want to spill your drink on, they’ve created the Fox Broadcasting Company, an “alternative programming service,” fourth force,” or as some potential sponsors have nicknamed it, the ‘Tweenie” — between a network and a first-run syndication company.

Fox has sunk $150 million into first­-year start-up costs and doesn’t expect to turn a profit for three to five years. In contrast to the network behemoths, FBC runs lean with 62 employees — they have no plans for such costly undertakings as regular news or sports coverage (though they did bid against ABC for next sea­son’s Monday Night Football). So far, 98 independent stations and five ABC affiliates, plus Murdochs seven, carry The Late Show, and FBC claims it reaches 80 per cent of American households. But most of the Fox indie affiliates are on the weaker-signal UHF band — that never-never land beyond Channel 13. So far, the “network” is more of a buzzword than a broadcasting venture.

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On this Monday morning in March, 33 days before launch, the phones in the FBC Century City offices ring persistent­ly, vice-presidents drop whatever they’re doing and rush down the halls preparing explanations… defenses… excuses for the Grand Inquisitor. Mr. Diller is not pleased. Simply put, the problem is that America has not yet been made to feel that Fox Broadcasting should be the most important thing in their lives.

The FBC logo has not yet been settled on. The Show Status Report, a weekly update on publicity campaigns, is stud­ded with “TBDs” (To Be Determined). In some cities at least 45 per cent of the viewers surveyed didn’t know which sta­tion carried The Late Show. And about Miss Rivers — her ratings are sliding, her show is over budget, her program an em­barrassment. The promos for the new shows aren’t ready. The new shows aren’t ready. And who sent a work-in-progress cassette to the Washington Post for review?

In Garth Ancier’s office, the week does not begin fresh at 7 a.m. on this same Monday morning — it merely continues from the night and day before. He operates out of an innocuous but spacious room with two leather couches, Museum of Broadcasting posters, a brass dish filled with Gummi Bears, an oval desk, no books, two TVs — at least one alway on, sound off, a visual pacifier — and a wall­-sized, party-colored chart of the networks’ primetime schedule that looks like a gameboard.

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Most of the blocks under the FBC heading are blank. Throughout April and May, perhaps into June, FBC will roll out nine weekend shows. But with only 12 projects — two of which are just pilots — it has virtually no backup programming. By traditional, pilot-heavy network standards, that makes as much sense as doing high-wire act during an earthquake.

With just a month to go, most of its scripts are still in various stages of doo­dling, rewriting, casting, recasting, shooting and reshooting. One, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, is living up to its name. And will the Household Name Actress please get on the exercycle? Will the Hip­ Name Actor behave himself, or will his character meet an early, mid-season death? What are the chances TV Guide will hold up its program-schedule deadlines until Fox gets its act together?

Just to make sure America has no ex­cuse not to tune in, FBC will air the premieres of two half-hour programs three times each, between 7 and 10 p.m. on April 5. The sitcom Married… With Children, though, is in the grip of a censorship battle with the network, the sponsors, and the executive producers­ — as Garth put it, “The whole company is split on ‘Pummel Men’s Scrotums.’ ” And the producers of a comedy-variety show­case called The Tracey Ullman Show, scheduled for a preliminary run-through, are so unsure about it that, as Fox liaison Michael Lansbury reported, “They, uh, don’t want us network fascist types to make their presence felt.”

At least 12 projects, each its own soap opera of complaints and demands, phone in to Garth regularly. But this morning’s major migraine is the show FBC has scheduled for April 12, a $10-million se­ries now entitled 21 Jump Street, from the creator of The Rockford Files and The A-Team but also Stingray and Hunt­er, the pipe-smoking man who signs off every show by whipping a page from a typewriter and tossing it in the air: Ste­phen J. Cannell. Garth has just taken his third look at the two-hour Jump Street premiere and made copious notes. Character credibility, holes in the plot, objec­tionable language — from behind his closed door can be heard muffled sounds of high-pitched, fast-talking voices. Garth deputizes Kevin Wendle, second in command of the five-member program­ming staff, to speak to Cannell.

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Kevin returns that night, looking haggard: some disagreements over the pre­miere have been resolved — “shmuck” is out — others loom, and he’s brought a rough cut of another episode. 21 Jump Street, which kicks off the lineup, is cru­cial to FBC’s Sunday night counter-programming: “At seven o’clock there’s a real opportunity for getting kids and teens,” explains Kevin, 28, FBC’s vice­-president of primetime and late-night programming. “Our House is real soft—”

“—Soft, soft, like watching paint dry,” says Garth, rolling his eyes.

“—Sixty Minutes is sophisticated, ur­ban, older. The Disney Movie is a glossy view of how adults think kids look at the world. We went in for a calculated ap­proach: four young cops undercover in high schools. The idea is to root out bad kids before they become bad adults. You can’t make the cops narcs — kids would resent you. So we make them exciting, likable leads. There’s no greater social purpose here. If it was a realistic script, it wouldn’t be entertaining.”

We watch the rough cut. Among the memorable lines: Teacher—“You lied to me!” Young Cop—“No. I misled you.”

Afterwards, looking boyish and wide­-eyed, they ask my reaction. I have jet lag, I am lunchless. I cannot summon the grace to be opaque. I hate the show. They listen without flinching. “I was starting to feel really depressed by what you said,” Garth says later. He is removing his glasses, rubbing his eyes, “But then I remembered: you don’t watch a lot of television.”

Kevin Wendle describes Garth, his boss, as his best friend. They are constantly running into each other’s offices, jabbering, putting out fires all day long. While driving on the freeway, Kevin calls up Garth, and plays audition cassettes for Jump Street’s theme music over the car phone. Public­ly, they present a united corporate front — always the brass-buttoned blazer, tie, and loafers. But Garth detests Silly; his latest example of sitcom nadir is ALF. Kevin doesn’t mind a talking car or two “if the concept is well executed.” Kevin drives a snappy white Alfa Romeo, Garth a garden-variety gray 560 SL Mercedes convertible. Kevin, who is slim, has been known to eat actual meals; Garth, who is slimmer still, is a world-class weight neurotic who’ll sit down to a 300-calorie Lean Cuisine dinner at 10:30 p.m. and not eat for another 24 hours. Kevin owns a house-with-pool in a fashionable part of town. Garth? A condo in north Holly­wood, practically in the Valley. When Ke­vin asked him why, he said, “Because that’s where the audience lives.”

One morning, hours after his 5:30 a.m. workout at the Fox gym, Kevin walks familiarly into the Bel-Air Hotel, L.A.’s power breakfast room of the moment. He’s led to a see-and-be-seen table by the window, and orders granola with fruit, skim milk, decaf. Kevin has been working in radio and television for half of his entire life.

Fourteen years ago, New York’s WINS news radio was led to believe its new production assistant on the four-to-mid­night shift was 17; he was actually a 14-year-old high school sophomore from northern New Jersey: “Every night my mother would go to sleep, set her alarm, and drive to the bus stop in her pajamas to pick me up at 1:30 a.m.” After a year, he jumped to WPIX-TV and by the time he did turn 17, Kevin was producing PIX’s Midday News. He skipped the rest of his senior year and enrolled in NYU, choosing the easiest degree program he could find — journalism. When he was a 19-year-old associate producer, the show won the first Emmy awarded to an inde­pendent station for a newscast.

Kevin’s dream in those days was to produce the top-rated newscast in New York, but there were only three such jobs in the city. Then ABC in Chicago called: “I dropped out of college, read a few books about Chicago. It was pretty funny: I had braces, and I was 20 — not old enough to drink there — and I was pro­ducer of the six o’clock news.

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“I loved television so much. I was a news junkie in the Eyewitness news fash­ion — providing information in a provocative way can be fun. I still get the New York Post here.”

Finally Channel 7, ABC’s New York affiliate, summoned. “I produced Roger and Bill — it was the era of Roseanne, Snyder, Ernie, Bob Lape. We went to number one. Two and a half years later I decided to leave news and go into pro­gramming. I was 24, and I’d just OD’d on studying the world.”

Kevin’s face is unlined, but his light brown hair is shot with gray. Likable and easy to be around, he’s at once calm and alert, gracious. His comments are all the more stunning because of his affectless delivery. “I’ll be working for a month, more, and I’ll realize I should take a day off, go to the beach, fall in love or some­thing, because you have to experience things so you can think, wouldn’t that be nice to get on television?'”

Kevin’s first programming success for ABC was 1983’s New York Hot Tracks, the black music show shot in the city’s dance clubs; his first failure was New York Style, Regis Philbin’s ill-fated after­noon show. Bored, restless, Kevin quit ABC. Real television, he decided, was be­ing made in Hollywood.

NBC’s Brandon Tartikoff offered to start him as manager in NBC’s drama development. Kevin, who’d been sports-­ignorant when he started writing about it at WPIX, who’d been Chicago-ignorant before he produced its newscast, who didn’t have a clue about black music be­fore he put it on TV, felt that perhaps he should tell Tartikoff he knew absolutely nothing about hour-long action shows. “Brandon said, ‘Just listen and learn. In a year you’ll be running the place.’ ”

Kevin also spent the year “learning the town”: memorizing hundreds of career paths, becoming fluent in the machine­-gun language of the industry, socializing aggressively, manipulating rumors — skills critical for a young job-jumper. After 14 months’ experience in network program­ming, Kevin was invited to dine with Barry Diller and Rupert Murdoch. Several days later he was phoned by Jamie Kellner, the new president of Fox Broad­casting Company: “Barry thinks you’re a name with a bullet.”

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Even Kevin didn’t have the back­ground to run all the programming for the new network. “I didn’t think they could get Garth — Garth was Brandon’s right-hand man.” But they did, and on the last Friday morning in March, 1986, Garth resigned at 9:30, Kevin an hour later. NBC strongly advised their former fair-haired boys to be out by noon.

“We were kids in a candy store. We packed Garth’s car with every book on TV we could find — writers books, lists of writers, greatest TV movies — we wanted to study the history of TV. We spent the weekend in Palm Springs plotting the networks, examining their cycles.

“We studied the face of television and took apart the seven nights: which ones lost audience and why? Men, teens, and kids were down 20 share points on Satur­day night — there’s nothing for them to watch. That’s why we’ve got Werewolf.” (And, for female viewers home on Satur­day nights, Karen’s Song, a dramatic sit­com about an affair between a 40-year-­old divorced, working woman and a 28- year-old aspiring caterer.)

“The networks have always pro­grammed by saying, ‘What’s on TV?’ So Garth said, ‘What’s not on TV? How can we counterprogram?’ We’re a threat to the way they do business, the going to lunch, the favors, the relationships with people, the hours spent on projects every­one agrees beforehand won’t fly. I don’t like us to be called a network. Networks are dinosaurs.”

Rather grandly, he says that at 50 he should put himself to pasture, and open a restaurant. Later in the week, he listens to project proposals from a silver-haired, former high-ranking NBC executive. The ideas, Kevin and a staff member con­clude, are “too ’70s.”

A new show called Beans Baxter may be Kevin’s favorite in the FBC lineup. With spies who hide in toaster ovens and mail boxes, it certainly approaches Silly. But Kevin — who describes the show as “Hey Wally, can I borrow your Howit­zer?” — believes it could develop a cult following.

Wearing a nondescript blazer, politely requesting a phone for the table, Kevin doesn’t look like a guy who’d know a cult hit if it introduced itself to him. Even so: Beans Baxter’s premiere includes Elinor Donohue (of Father Knows Best) as Mom and chainsaw queen Wendy O. Williams as a dominatrix-type bad girl. “Garth and I aren’t hip,” Kevin says, as he finishes his granola, “but hopefully we know peo­ple who are.”

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When word got out that there was now a fourth market for televi­sion programming, Hollywood, pitchpersons stampeded Garth’s door. The Pitch is the traditional first step to a primetime slot: a flatter-­tease-and-grovel session of approximately 26 minutes performed by a writer, producer, and two agents for a stone-faced network executive. The tales brought back by the first survivors of the Fox sessions were chilling: Garth did not suffer pitches gladly. And he almost cate­gorically refused to take risks with unknowns.

How different did Fox need to be to romance viewers away from the Big Three? How different could Fox afford to be, and still romance sponsors? FBC’s programming, management decided, would strive for freshness by “network” standards. Garth wanted to lure proven talent; it was not his job to polish diamonds in the rough, he said. That was the responsibility of the production studios.

FBC pays comparable network prices — $300,000 to $500,000 for a half-­hour episode. Even so, why would a top producer in television — whose prestige is roughly analogous to a top director’s in film and who can virtually have his way with any of the Big Three — consider signing with a phantom network whose shows would be watched by about 35 peo­ple in the whole country?

This is a partial roster of producers and writers working with FBC: Jim Brooks (Mary Tyler Moore, Taxi, Lou Grant, Terms of Endearment), Ed Wein­berger (M.A.S.H.), Gary David Goldberg (Family Ties), Margie Peters and Linda Marsh (Family Ties, Valerie), and Ste­phen J. Cannell. Disney Studios has a project with them. And so does New York’s radio madman, Howard Stern.

Garth never intended to reinvent net­work television, but he did reinvent how it is developed. Instead of waiting for pitches, he did the pitching. Producers for FBC would have two things that are almost unheard of: job security in the form of a guaranteed 13 episodes (no make-it-or-break-it pilot) and creative freedom.

It’s time for the generals’ address to the troops — the weekly update that FBC management telecasts to its affiliates. On this Tuesday morning, headquarter’s mission is particularly tricky: convince affiliates that the folks in Century City know exactly what they’re doing, plans are right on schedule, and so how about a little enthusiasm out there?

Five FBC executives, Garth among them, sit behind a table in a studio at KTTV, the Fox-owned station in Los Angeles. In the politest terms, an execu­tive scolds some affiliates for being chick­enshit and airing The Late Show after Johnny Carson. (The affiliates have to know, Barry Diller has instructed his generals, that the 11 o’clock franchise is “destiny.”) Next, a message from Our Whiz Kid: programming is moving along nicely, now let’s take a look at a two-minute test from Karen’s Song, “un­sweetened,” apologizes Garth, by music or laugh tracks. Then FBC’s April debut strategy explained: to avoid the heavy pounding by the networks during the March and May sweeps. Questions?

Amarillo. Seattle. Norfolk. From around the country, inquiring station managers want to know: “Programming from the network ends at 10 p.m. What do you suggest we follow it with?” Garth?

A. “We offer young, upscale, urban­-oriented programming. On Sundays, try an adult sitcom like Taxi or Barney Miller, since there are no sitcoms on CBS and NBC then.”

Another executive adds with some ur­gency, “If someone is trying to get you to program religion, please think about it carefully.”

Oklahoma City. Davenport. Chatta­nooga. “Garth, can you confirm the title of Werewolf [a new show]?”

A. “Yes I can.” Pause. Hearty smile. “We’ve spent a half-million bucks to pay for his transformation from man into wolf!”

Raleigh, North Carolina, wants to know if the stars of the shows will be making appearances for publicity interviews.

A. Er. Uh. Maximum impact, major cities, so “not in Raleigh.”

Green Bay has heard rumors that FBC may be signing up a station in Milwaukee, which borders the Green Bay sta­tion’s Area of Dominant Influence (ADI). Say it ain’t so, Fox.

A. At the moment there is no Fox station in Milwaukee. But it’s likely there will be by the end of the week.

Savannah. Salt Lake City. Little Rock. “What will FBC do if other networks put up blockbuster movies during their de­but?” Garth?

He laughs confidently, with a touch of disdain. “NBC putting on a 7-to-10 mov­ie? They’re stuck with Rags to Riches [a new show] and with only two weeks on the air, they wouldn’t pull it. Besides, they’re well aware that if they did, we’d use it as a publicity stunt.”

No more questions? See you next week then, and remember (a billboard flashes on the monitors): 33 DAYS UNTIL PRIME TIME LAUNCH!

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These days, FBC’s young programming staff runs on caffeine, Gummi Bears, excitement, and dread. No one has time to wait for the elevator, no one has time to speak in complete sentences. Garth, who does so much of his work over the phone, throws his legs up on his desk and talks the fastest of them all: “Cheers may go to Wednesday at 9? Oblivion!… Yeah, I hear he’s looking — you going after him?… The studio thinks it’s a great made-for. Now I really wonder about their judgment. They’re supposed to be doing something with us, you know.”

One night he agrees to be wrested from the office for an hour or so. In the vesti­bule of a crowded Westwood restaurant (Kevin’s recommendation), one of Ameri­ca’s most powerful television executives turns into just another guy who’s daunted by a maitre d’. All the tables in the lounge are taken, and Garth isn’t allowed to sit upstairs, because of course he does not want to order food. He gazes longingly at the TV over the bar, which happens to be tuned to Fox’s KTIV. “Do you think they’d give me a table if I threatened to yank that show off their set?” he says, half kidding.

Edging up to the bar, he orders a spar­kling water and inhales basketfuls of pop­corn (“very low in calories”). He is starting to unwind. In the office, he’s perceived as a mysterious work ma­chine — coolheaded, efficient, tireless. Outside the office, he’s a young 29, gawky, high-spirited, recounting war sto­ries that are “unbeleeevable!” Like the one about how he was talked into leaving NBC.

“I had my first meeting with [FBC president] Jamie Kellner on Friday night, then Sunday morning at Barry’s house. That night I went to a black-tie function­al and sat at a table with [RCA chairman Thornton] Bradshaw, Grant Tinker, and Brandon. I felt like such a turncoat. FBC’s offer came Monday morning at 7:30. Tuesday, Brandon counteroffered. Grant called me and said that a fourth network would never work — NBC tried to make me feel like I was one of three people in the entire world. I called Fox to pass. Wednesday night Barry said, ‘Don’t pass, have drinks with Rupert.’ Rupert was charismatic. He didn’t make a hard sell. He just said he’d like to meet the man who was going to spend his money.”

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Garth left because the challenge was gone — NBC had been number one for over a year, in part because of the come­dies he’d helped develop. He was tanta­lized by the prospect of a new venture and by going head-to-head with his mentors. But his greatest challenge would be Barry Diller, a man who clearly enjoys stoking his reputation as Hollywood’s Vlad the Impaler. “Barry tolerates no bullshit. When you’re in a big company like NBC there’s so much wasted time, so much hidden agenda. Here, it’s like a precept at Princeton. Rupert and Barry want total truth. Barry and I fight a lot. I like to win, and I win a lot. But Barry makes me work for everything I get.”

When Garth was growing up in Law­renceville, New Jersey, his parents would lock him out of the house to make him play with other kids. Garth, who still considers himself a loner, preferred TV: “If you don’t like the people, you can change the channel.” Some of his fondest memories from the Lawrenceville School and Princeton, be says, are of sitting around with friends, watching TV.

At 12 he interned at a public television station; at 14 he was running the control board of a beautiful-music radio station. To fulfill FCC requirements, it needed a public affairs program. Garth, then 16, developed the Sunday morning show that has come to be known as American Focus and is carried by 400 stations. The first person he interviewed was the state’s traffic safety coordinator. “Then we interviewed Katharine Graham, because she had just bought the Trenton Times. I was a cocky kid.”

He talked New York’s WNBC into air­ing the show; then 16 NBC affiliates car­ried it. When he was graduated, barely, from Princeton in 1979, the show had become a campus institution and had been written up in the national press. “I was traveling across the country, meeting stars, world leaders, having a great time,” says Garth, rather bemused by himself­. “When you’re on your second CIA director…”

After graduation, he thought he’d like to go into network programming. He was in Los Angeles to interview Jimmy Stew­art for the radio show, but he didn’t have a résumé with him. So he walked into Brandon Tartikoff’s office and handed him a People profile. “Brandon looked at it and said, ‘Oh, you went to Lawrence­ville, too?’ ”

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Garth watched an awful lot of televi­sion over the next seven years. “Most network shows are poorly executed. You can see the jokes coming a mile away. NBC always went for the jokes first. I always look for the story-telling, the emo­tion, the characters first, then the jokes.” Designing Women, he thinks, is terrible: “one character, split four ways.” He admires Murder She Wrote, 60 Minutes, Kate and Allie, Who’s the Boss, Newhart “most of the time.” Moonlighting, “but they can’t afford to make a lot of Moon­lightings at three and a half million an episode.” Cagney and Lacey? “A little dark, a little depressing.” Hill Street? “Well done, but I don’t enjoy it.” At home, Garth owns a 46-inch screen and four monitors.

“The writer-producers are my heroes — ­they did the shows I watched in college. At NBC I’d worked with Jim Brooks on Taxi. I was totally in awe of this guy, I mean, you’re talking God. He’s so talent­ed I’m scared to death of him. When I heard that he wanted to do something with us [The Tracey Ullman Show] I was too shy to call him up and say thank you, so I sent him a hand-written note.”

Nevertheless, Garth says, it’s been dif­ficult to inspire people. “I’ve been telling them ‘Please be more adventurous.’ They’ve been so beaten down they’re afraid to take chances.” Like the time the Buffalo Bill people wanted to do a show on abortion, and Garth had to negotiate between writers and censors, line by line. The haggling over language, never mind ideas. Sleazeball yes, scumbag no?

It’s 8:30, long past time to phone in to the office. The staff is waiting for him — the hour-long premiere of Duet has just arrived. He gets into the Mercedes, and dials as he drives. “Kevin, you ordered pizza?” A smile crosses his face.

As he’s heading back to work, Garth insists he really is a rebel, given to flashes of spontaneity. Once, he says, he was supposed to be in Aspen for a meeting, but he’d heard the flight was nervous­-making. Abruptly, he decided to make the 20-hour drive alone. In the middle of the night his car broke down in a desert town near Las Vegas.

“Everybody was stopping at the gas station. People on their way to gamble. To get married. Get divorced. Husbands and wives yelling at each other. Ameri­cans acting just like Americans, you know?” He is beaming, as he replays the memory. “And I thought, ‘Unbelievable! This is just like a comedy series!’ ”

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In a middle-class American living room, a boy wearing Rambo-style camouflage garrots his older sister, screaming, “DIE, COMMIE BIMBO!”

His mother is irked. “Remember the effect it had on Gramma?”

So begins the premiere of Married… With Children, the FBC sitcom that is Garth Ancier’s pride and joy, The show is about the 15-year-old marriage between Peggy, a housewife, and Al, a shoe sales­man, and their newlywed neighbors, Steve, a bank teller, and Marcy, his boss. It’s open warfare between the sexes: Peg­gy puts a cactus where Al’s alarm clock used to be; he wipes the blood off his hand with her slip. Steve and Al, com­plete opposites, discover a common ene­my — P.M.S., which they define as “Pummel Men’s Scrotums.”

“Imagine Sam Kinison married to Roseanne Barr,” says Garth.”This is offensive. It’s supposed to break through the blandness of the medium. TV is too… nice—”

“—In an age of nice for niceness’ sake, it’s an original,” finishes Kevin. “It’s a good working-man’s comedy.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the cast is doing a timed run-through in a cavernous rehearsal hall. The observers, industry guests and the ubiquitous Foxies, sit al­most in the actors’ laps. Watching a hyperventilated TV sitcom performed life­-size is unsettling: without the screen to reduce and frame them, the performances seem grotesque. But the writing is full of surprises, the characters raunchy and af­fable, and soon the room is hooting with laughter; even the actors break up. Garth’s face is the most animated it’s been in three days: glowing with pleasure, hanging on every line, he is watching TV.

Afterwards, two wild men assail him. One is talking rapid Jewish-Brooklynese, chomping gum, and chain-smoking, dressed in no-name jeans and a sweat­stained T-shirt delineating bulk that wishes it could pass for muscle. The in­stant he pauses to wheeze, the other, a short, stocky black guy dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, finishes the sentence and barrels ahead. They’re the 22-min­ute-and-10-second champs, Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye. One or both of them have left boot prints on Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons. Now they’re executive producers of Married… With Children.

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Garth rushes off to another meeting, and Leavitt and Moye reconvene in an office that looks like an X-rated Romper Room. Toy guns, bows and arrows, a life­-sized dummy, and a hip-high cardboard box filled with food for thought: Ding Dongs, Suzie Qs, a gourmet selection of Entenmann’s and… Twinkies?

“If Twinkies can get someone off for murder, they can certainly get us on the air,” asserts Ron.

“Garth told us: ‘Anything you want to do, we’ll leave you alone,’ ” says Michael. “Now, we’ve heard that before from the networks, but usually there’s an aster­isk — ‘see below’ — and then we get all those footnotes. Poor Garth! Look what we gave him. At least he knew we were bizarre enough not to be trusted.”

Ron and Michael play hip, talk irrever­ent, but their dirty little secret is that they’re workaholics and perfectionists. They may work until 3 a.m., but they’ll take their staff out drinking and bowling for the rest of the night. But on this show, there’s even more at stake than usual. Michael’s rage is only slightly clos­er to the surface than Ron’s. “It’s my rebuttal to all the crap in the family shows. Kids don’t want advice. They want money.”

Ron: “If you want to see that plastic facade shit, you got the networks. We wanted to show a more… realistic 15-year-old marriage. The ugly stuff comes from our lives and we just take it to a ridiculous extreme. Our lives were boring, we have no friends, we’re beaten by our wives, and we wash dishes.

“Garth knew this was a calculated risk. We’re not coming out of the starting gate saying please love us. The show is for people who think, ‘I just wish Cosby had my kids for five minutes.’ ”

Michael: “They’re calling our show a comic version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. We just want America to sit back with a beer and say, ‘Holy shit! Now that’s writin’!’ ”

“—And then go pee,” finishes Ron. “Every sitcom has to have a ‘mes­sage,’ ” says Michael.

“—Ours doesn’t,” says Ron. “Yeah! It’s about time somebody had nothing to say,” finishes Michael.

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The possibility that women viewers might resent female characters portrayed as castrators while their men are long-suffering victims eludes Ron and Mi­chael. “We have a lot of women on our staff [directors, writers, crew], and we set out to do a show that was sexist on both sides. Naturally, being guys, we’re more brutal on women. We can’t find anything wrong with guys,” says Ron. “Look, Al is no dream, he’s not that smart. But make a woman stupid on television and you’ve just fucked with God.”

It’s difficult to imagine Married… With Children getting an air date on a Big Three network. “If we did get on the networks and were a hit, they’d leave us alone,” says Michael. “But if we were mediocre, they’d say, ‘Make Peggy more saintly, make Al more likable, have them say I love you four times a show.’ If the kids have problems, the parents should catch them quickly and crush them.”

Ron: “If FBC says that to us, I hope we have the nerve to say no. I hope instead they’ll say, ‘Please guys, just get the fuck off our network.’ ”

Unlike the other networks, FBC does not have an in-house censor. The day after their bold talk, Leavitt and Moye received memos from Bristol-Meyers, Clorox, Johnson & Johnson, and Kraft expressing their unwillingness to sponsor a show with the line “Pommel Men’s Scrotums.”

“Now we’ll see which way the testicles are swinging — or if they’re just going to pull ’em up,” said Michael. Would FBC bleep on debut night?

As of last week, Leavitt and Moye were refusing to rewrite the line. “Poor Garth,” said Ron. “This is really gonna wrinkle his shirt.”

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On Friday night, Southern Califor­nia fraternity kids swarm into a Fox studio, hired to yuck it up during the first taping of producer Jim Brooks’s new project, The Tracey Ullman Show. The autograph­ hounds leap on Danny De Vito (a Brooks Taxi alum) and Rhea Perlman, the room’s best-known stars.

In the middle of the row behind the couple, a flamboyant L.A. cockatoo keeps leaving his seat, bored by the deadly pace of the taping. He apologizes distractedly each time he crunches on four pairs of corporate-proper shoes, trips over eight conservatively clad knees. He is unaware they belong to the room’s most powerful stars: Kevin Wendle, Garth Ancier, Barry Diller, and Rupert Murdoch.

Brooks’s new show is an energetic showcase of comedy skits, animation, and variety acts, done on an intimate, anti-­glitter scale with two revolving sets. As Garth is fond of saying, there’s nothing on TV like it. So far, the show’s pace, tone, and appearance still exist largely in the minds of Brooks and his comedy writers — Garth knows he may well not see the finished product until a minute before the final deadline.

British pop star Tracey Ullman and sidekick Julie Kavner struggle through the first act. “I’m changing the channel back to Who’s the Boss,” groans a frat kid. Take two. Take three. It is difficult to laugh at a strained joke the fourth time around. One camera breaks. Then another.

Diller and Garth chat up Murdoch.

Act two. Suddenly Ullman pulls out a bravura comic performance, and the au­dience explodes. Rupert is applauding. Next, the variety act — juggler Daniel Ro­sen — dazzles everyone, even Diller but es­pecially Rupert. They’ve seen enough, they get the idea. They leave, happy net­work executives.

The show inches toward its goal: TV that’s hot and cool. Kavner wheeled in as a survivor of a terrible car accident; Ull­man as her maddeningly chirpy neighbor, who has been stabbed on a bus with a penknife 32 times. Take four. This half-­hour program has been taping for three hours.

Then Ullman, now a modem single woman, hires a band and records a mes­sage into her phone answering machine. Throwing her red curls around, parody­ing rock performers, she brings down the house. “Now, that’s more like it,” rates the fraternity kid.

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After a gray, chilly week, the South­ern California climate finally comes out with it: sun, blue skies, gentle breeze, the whole bit. A per­fect Saturday to go to the beach.

Garth and Kevin, frayed by the march of 7 a.m.-to-midnight hours, head for the ’burbs. The rural bedroom community of Calabasas, California, is about as close to American heartland sensibility as can be found in a morning’s drive from Los An­geles. And Saturday afternoon is the only time you can get a bunch of teens and college kids together to watch a little TV. After months of fine-tuning the counter­programming strategy, endless hours of fighting and rewriting and second-guess­ing, FBC is presenting 21 Jump Street (once called The Undercover Kid, then Jump Street Chapel) to its most influen­tial critics — the target audience.

Garth doesn’t like to test pilots before they air, and partly blames the blanding of TV on the practice. The pilots of All in the Family and Miami Vice, he points out, did terribly. “Research only tells you what people are comfortable with, not if it can be a breakout show.” But today he’s making an exception to his own rule. FBC and the Cannell people have reached an impasse on the premiere of 21 Jump Street. The series, the foundation of FBC’s entire Sunday night schedule, has Garth so worried that he’s turning to viewer focus groups for reassurance. Even if, God forbid, they don’t like the show, he hopes their criticisms will persuade Cannell to make the changes — such as rehauling the epilogue — that FBC has been urging.

The official bio for Stephen J. Cannell trumpets him as “one of the most prolific and successful writer/producers working in the television industry today… a trendsetter.” His independent production company, in the STEPHEN J. CAN­NELL building at La Brea and Hollywood, bas created a record number of pilots that have gone to series. Cannell’s 1986 gross revenues from the shows, sales of soundtracks, and licensing of merchan­dise, from Rambo dolls to A-Team lunch boxes, was about $150 million.

The day before the Calabasas focus group, Cannell remained publicly unperturbed. “The Fox guys are at their most tense moment — they’re a little white­-knuckled. They have a tendency to go to the pilot [premiere show] and fix things and I say, ‘Guys, we gotta go on! If we play with this for the next three weeks we’re in trouble! I mean, it’s just 30 sec­onds of film!’ ”

A fire crackles in the fireplace at one end of Cannell’s sixth-floor office, which is decorated in what he describes as “En­glish hunting colors” and looks over Hol­lywood. If Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye are determined not to look like writers, then Cannell is Writer from cen­tral casting — a tanned, lithe 45-year-old whose signature style is windbreaker and pipe. He eschews a desk for the informal­ity of a face-to-face chat. His publicist is also in the room.

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“I thought Jump Street was a real good idea — I could have sold it to CBS. With the exception of Mod Squad, there’s nothing like it on TV. You got murder in high school, you got drugs. So let ’em OD and die but don’t be a snitch? That’s the moral position?”

He maintains that if the audience saw his version of Jump Street and then the one with Fox’s changes, “they’d say, ‘What’s the difference?’ That’s the posi­tion I take. Of course, you do have to care about what you’re doing. Im not in it for the money. Writing is still what’s most important to me. I’m proud of this show — it’s about as good as I get.”

Ten white teens and young adults from Calabasas are watching the best Stephen J. Cannell has to offer. The two-hour premiere of 21 Jump Street introduces a mini-UN of rookie cops, so young-looking (so cute, so potential teen idol) that they “lack authority on the street,” as the show puts it. A long-haired, sour, ex­-hippie cop captain trains them to pose as students in different high schools. In this episode, a well-to-do white student serves as a drug runner for two black student dealers who park their (stolen and unreported) Ferraris in the school lot. Follow­ing a scuffle, the vice-principal gives the black guys two-week’s detention. Chase scene, cliff-hanger, rescue. In the epilogue, sour ex-hippie cop captain hangs out with garage band buddies, blissfully lip-synching to the Grateful Dead.

As Kevin and Garth observe behind the one-way window, the researcher probes the group for an hour.

John, 21: You’re watching a detective show and a band comes on?

Scott, 18: And that music they were playing was kinda outdated, from the ’70s.

James, 19: But it’s the only show on TV that has kids our age taking on the bad guys.

David, 20: Yeah, it came down to our level. I think it’s very educational.

But one viewer has trouble believing (a) that a high school student would have a Ferrari and (b) same student would be so calm after it was deliberately scratched. Jamie, 18, however, thinks (a) and (b) are realistic.

Certain characters they just don’t get at all. Jamie doesn’t see a lot of hippies around these days, much less hippie cops. Sophia, 21, has never seen students talk back to teachers that way, “but I went to a private high school.” And Morgan can’t figure the black rookie — “You just don’t see a lot of black lady cops.” Others com­plain she’s too dainty. How come when she got into trouble, everybody looked worried, like she couldn’t take care of herself’?

What about the writing? “If they can keep it up to this caliber, it’s pretty good.” (From the observation room, snickers.)

Violence? “Compared to Miami Vice, this is grammar school.” Message? “It won’t stop kids from dealing. But it will make them more careful about who they deal to.”

How do they feel about narcs in high school? They don’t like them, but “these guys are nice. They want to stop crime and help kids.”

How many would watch Jump Street (“Oh God, here it comes,” murmurs Garth) instead of: Our House? All 10 raise their hands. Miami Vice? Five (“Vice is getting old,” says James). Mur­der, She Wrote? Eight. Disney Movie? Gales of laughter. Sixty Minutes? Seven.

“Welcome,” says Kevin, “to middle America.”

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The researcher steps into the observa­tion room and translates the session for Kevin and Garth. “They’re picking holes in the the plot. Did you hear them though? The first word they said is ‘ac­tion.’ They like most of the characters — ­they’re seeing teenagers, and it’s a show on their level. When they say it’s ‘differ­ent,’ they mean you have a good idea. But this age group didn’t buy that ’60s stuff. The ’60s to them is like the ’40s to us.”

“Our specific concerns were the top of the show, the hospital scene, and the entry into the chapel [the rookies’ head­quarters],” says Garth. The viewers ques­tioned those scenes, too. “They really didn’t buy the chapel,” replies the re­searcher. “If you spend a lot of time in it, you’re in trouble.”

But, he adds, “I was surprised they were so positive. They picked it apart, but I’ve seen groups destroy shows. As for the black cop, all she has to do is put one person in his place and it’ll establish her character. Remember, though, you can’t make a living off this age group.”

Kevin says, “We’re mostly interested in just building a big audience for that hour.” The researcher nods. “They did say there’s nothing else on for them to watch. And they all said they felt com­fortable watching it with their parents. What you have to do is send up heat around the show — create a campaign that will form their attitude that it’s hip to watch Jump Street. And then, I’d say, you’ve got yourselves a hit.”

Kevin requests that a transcript be sent to the producers right away. Armed with more paperwork, Garth and Kevin will fight the good fight with Cannell. The viewers have indeed backed up their contentions: taken swipes at certain roles, laughed off entire scenes. (In fact, within weeks a drunk driver will kill off the ex-hippie captain — so much for “that ’60s stuff.”) But the viewers have also born out Cannell: they approve of under­cover cops moving among them. A quib­ble here and there, but the whole is just fine with them. And, as every good televi­sion programmer knows, all that matters is whether the audience will swallow the concept. Blinking as they step into the bright California afternoon, Garth and Kevin look deeply pleased. FBC may not yet be ready for America, but America is ready for FBC. ❖

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Rupert Murdoch Tells All

  • His Secret Plan to Change the “Post”
  • How He Wooed Dolly Schiff
  • Why U.S. Journalists Are Lazy
  • Why He Quit Britain
  • What Makes Him Run 

In an exclusive interview with me at the end of last week, Australian press baron Rupert Murdoch told all. Lounging in his plush Fifth Avenue apartment, sipping a Scotch and soda, the 45-year-old millionaire tycoon spilled the inside story of his daring gamble in buying the ailing “Post” from New York’s first lady of journalism, Dorothy Schiff. He lashed back at the critics who say he is nothing but a peddler of printed garbage. He confessed his secret plan to change the face of New York. He confided his dreams and his mistakes, his life as an outsider in Britain, his love of the United States. Here is the real Rupert Murdoch. 

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Who made the first approach on the Post sale?

I did. I’ve seen Dolly on and off and got to know her over the last three years. She’s been very friendly, but we’d never dis­cussed buying or selling the paper. Then, last September, I went down and had a bite of lunch with her, and we got talking about business and politics, and I sensed she was very tired. She said she was very tired. She knew what was necessary to turn the paper around and get it done right, but she felt she just didn’t have the energy left. She really made the opening, though she didn’t really mean to, I think.

I said, if you want to get rid of it, let me know. I’m here. She said, ‘Oh, you’d be interested, would you? Everyone tells me you were, but you’ve never said it. Now you’ve said it.’ I didn’t push. I deliberately took the risk that someone might come in under me. I thought that while it was making money she obviously wasn’t going to go. That’s what it boiled down to.

So she said, ‘Where do we go from here?’ I asked her what she really wanted to do. Did she want to get out? Did she want a partner? She said if she got out she’d get out totally. She said she’d like to write a column. I’m delighted to have her write a column. It gets her to keep an identity of her own.

It was very difficult indeed to arrive at a figure. I promised… I can’t say, but the guessing is around $30 million, and that’s right, 10 per cent either way. If you buy the Kansas City Star, you pay three times the revenue, because it’s a monopoly and a license to steal money forever. Or you pay 50 times earnings, or 40 times earnings. Then you get to a paper which is not making money, so you can’t take a p/e.… In the end, you say, if we’re very success­ful, how much can we make. Then you make allowances that it’s in New York and allowances for the fact that you’re bloody keen to get it and a certain amount of sense goes out the window, and you do the deal. You’ve got a gut feeling about it.

What does final ratification of the agree­ment depend on?

Our auditors have got to be satisfied that the figures they have given us are true. That’s all. I have to get permission of the Bank of England and the Reserve Bank of Australia, which is simple. We’ve got the wink. It’s a back-to-back loan. Perfectly normal. We still take the exchange risk as far as England goes. We deposit 10 million pounds, on which we earn from the Bank of England the local rate of interest, 16 or 17 per cent or whatever, and another bank here lends us $10 million, not $15 million. We bring the money directly from Aus­tralia and borrow the rest locally.

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So what do you think should be done with the Post?

I’ve got to study what’s there. I don’t want to give the impression that there’s no one any good there. We’ve got to improve the authority and the quality of its writing in the arts, the women’s section, and finance. You’ve already got it in sports. But one must never take one’s eye off sports. Make it better still if one can. There has to be better television coverage. These are the ribs of the paper that need to be fixed first and made a lot better. You can give authority through the arts and through finance.

In features, we should thin out the columns a bit and have two or three pages of varying features all the time about New York… service material. Take what New York magazine has done. It walked into a void there, looking after middle-class New Yorkers, telling them how to live here.

We should not be frightened to react to the news quickly, with a three-parter or five-parter on what happens to be interesting and appropriate at the time. But there really are too many columns in the bloody paper. Eight columns a day. They seem to be there because they’re available, rather than for any quality. It’s a cheap way of filling the paper.

Which columns do you like? 

I’m growing irritated by Evans and Novak. It doesn’t represent my political point of view, but I like Buckley. I tend to read him. I get cross about it, but the column is articulate. Evans and Novak tend to be sucking up to the political establishment in Washington, because  Kissinger is leaking to them, or someone else. But I shouldn’t knock them too much. They often break a story. Carl Rowan I can read. Sylvia Porter — everyone tells me she’s wonderful, but I’d put her back in finance or the women’s pages or a service area. You should have a page or two of first-class political columns leading articles and cartoons. I read Wechsler’s column.… There’s something gray, something dull about paper. Dolly insists the best piece in there is one she put in instead of Anderson, where she rips them all off.

How do you see the front page?

A harder headline. A couple of stories on the front page. Certainly get all those pointers off the top and have a clean, decent masthead. I don’t know — they never do it in America, but I’d like a seal, just the edition name put there in red. A bit of red gives you better black and white contrast, somehow.

But it’s the words, picking the right story to lead with, having the right story to lead with. Take the story about Patty Hearst being released: we had that story in our bureau here at the National Star about 10 hours before the Post broke it in their last edition. There’s something wrong with the newsgathering. The reporters are too busy writing essays about city government or about their favorite hobby horses and not getting the hard stuff — courts, politics. There’s room for features, plenty of room for serious features. Don’t get me wrong.

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How do you see the Post in relation to the News?

I can’t make up my mind about the News. Sometimes I think all it’s done is just get boring, and that the editors and people there are just too worried about what their neighbors in Westchester County think about it. The News should be violent and blood and guts. Sure, it can have some great writing in it, too. But it chickens out of too many stories. Other times, you have to say to yourself, it’s great. I don’t like its new layout. These wide columns and big type are just slowing it up. I know it’s the rage in America to have wider and wider columns. I think they’re harder to read, slower to read.

How about areas of readership?

It is obviously a Jewish middle-class paper. There’s probably one and a half million, two million people who read it every night. You’ve got to do a better job for them, stop them grumbling about 25 cents, and make them feel they’re getting their money’s worth.

What cut the readership down was the price rise. Dolly kept raising the price without putting anything extra in the paper. We certainly can’t raise the price again in the foreseeable future. It’s a worry, the newsstands closing. Maybe we’ll have to give them a better margin, so they can stay open longer.

Make them feel they’re getting their money’s worth. The next thing, you’ve got to broaden the appeal, get the Irish and the Italians and whoever else. I think the sport is a problem there. The sport is very good, but it’s rather up market in the way it’s written. It’s a bit above the head of the average… I don’t want to sound… the colored population, well, the blacks here. If they read anything, they tend to read the Daily News and they do it for the sport. Basically, they are not buying newspapers. You know, we will try and get into that area. The News is right, you’ve got to do it via sports. You’re not going to do it with a pretty essay. You’ve got to be able to quicken the pace.

What about your views of American journalism as a whole?

Worthy and lazy. Often bloody lazy. I don’t want to come in knocking American journalism, but I really think the British subeditors are still the best in the world, and I think on the whole that Australian reporters are the best in the world: it’s energy, aggressiveness, and so on.

Do you think American journalists have lost the techniques of being popular?

Right. They can’t even bloody write… on and on and on and on. Importing English subeditors is dangerous, but I wish to God the Americans would learn the techniques of English subbing. The stories in the Post are not very well written, and they go on too long. There’s no subbing. There’s no one writing good headlines down there. I don’t know who the news editor is, and who are organizing the stories. It seems to me they’re not covering the basics of New York. I don’t know what reporting is going on through the night. There must be tre­mendous… well, there are crime stories after the last edition of the News has gone to bed, waiting for the first edition of the Post. You never see one.

Gossip? Look at the gossip writer she hires. He may be a great guy, but the first piece he writes is 600 words apologizing for being a gossip writer. I never would have published it. Never. You’ve got great stories. Carey carrying on in “21” last night or wherever. Just doorstep Carey every night.

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What are your feelings about your politi­cal role as a newspaper proprietor here?

In the big political primaries, we were the only major paper in Texas to support Carter.… I’m a bit of a political buff. I love politics. I would have known enough to predict the results of all recent elections, though I was surprised how well Bella Abzug did. Beyond that, what right have I got to have political influence? I pay my taxes here. I’ve got my green card. Of course, I’m interested, fascinated by it. I’m not the Roy Thomson type of newspaper proprietor, just making money out of newspapers. I get a lot of kicks out of the political side of it.

Who would you support if there was an election in Britain tomorrow?

Put the government out, put the Conser­vatives in. I made the News of the World come out for Labor in 1970. The editors who prided themselves on being more left than me wanted to come out for Edward Heath in ’74. I stopped that. I didn’t come out for Labor. I said all right, we’ll agree to disagree and sit it out.

In 1972, I ran all the election policies of my papers in Australia and got deeply, far too deeply, involved. Looking back, we did some dreadful things to the other side. We lost a lot of advertising revenue, too. But in 1972 all the journalists felt the same way. In 1975, I changed my mind. It wasn’t out of any deep disillusion with the principles of the Labor Party. I was deeply sad. I thought it was a dreadful thing to be going back to the Conservatives so soon. Labor had been out for 23 years. It was the last chance of having a sane Labor govern­ment. I don’t mean a right-wing Labor government. I mean one that would have made a lot of changes and which, I hoped, would even go so far as to take us into a republic at one stage. They chickened on that. They were just bloody weak. Whitlam was a disaster.… It’s true, I did come in and turn our papers around. I think half our staff was with us. On The Australian, there were still people committed to the changes Whitlam had tried. They tried to overlook the failures, and there was a clash. I deny completely that we twisted the news. But we can argue that forever. Nineteen-seventy-five rather got me the reputation of being a reactionary, very conveniently overlooking what we’d done in 1972. In 1972, I wrote the leaders [editorials] every day in the [Sydney] Daily Mirror.

Would you be that involved here?

No. I hope I can control myself.

Well, what with The Sun and the San Antonio paper, the image is of you as a monstrous journalistic villain, keen on ambulance chasing and sticking tarts on the cover. How relevant is all that, so far as the Post is concerned? How do you react to that kind of image of you?

I think people misread it, of course. It suits our critics to say that we publish terrible papers. The Sun in London isn’t bad at all. The people who say it’s a terrible paper — it’s quite clear they only look at the girl on page three. It’s quite clear they don’t read it. Or get its political message, or read its features, or see what it’s about. The Sun is striking a chord. It’s being read by everyone under 40. The Mirror must be cooking their books somewhere when they say they are 50,000 in front of us. I think The Sun is an honest and very professional exercise in popular journalism in England. In England, you’ve got 50 million people you can reach at the end of a train every morning. My logic was that there just had to be room for more than one tabloid. The rest is history. You only had to get 20 per cent of the market. Here it’s quite dif­ferent.

Well, somewhere in between. In Aus­tralia, or America, some average city here, you have to sell to everybody. There’s not room for two of you. You tend to have a bland approach. You can’t really define a section of the market, a section of the public where you are just going to give them the paper they want. You go for the under-45s, and the over-65s will be offended. There are different sexual mores. It’s amazing. You put a pretty girl on the paper. A pretty girl, I don’t mean nude. You do that in the Star and they pull the place down. It’s dreadful… the store owners, it’s terrible. But you can publish an article of the most specific sexuality and not a murmur. It’s the reverse in England. More open and honest about it. Of course, there’s a great art to it. Those girls in The Sun are glamorous birds. They’re not tarts, they are not dirty, suggestive pictures. But here, for instance, Cosmopolitan the other day had a cover with a girl where there was a suggestion of a nipple. They got in a lot of trouble from their advertisers. The adver­tising department was terrified. The free copies went out with stickers planted right on the nipple.

The San Antonio paper? Well, they ignore what we’ve done with the Express down there, which is not as good as we’d like it to be, but is full of New York Times and Washington Post stuff, and some very good investigative stuff. It’s a bit conservative, and the circulation hasn’t gone up at all. So far as the News is concerned, we wondered about it and wondered about it and thought, what are people doing for news, where were they getting it — certainly not from the Hearst papers. We studied the TV pro­grams. The leading channel by a mile was a station that put on two hours of local news every afternoon and was just following the cops around with mobile cameras… blood and guts. And we turned the News pretty sharply, with lots of crime reporting and the courts. It’s a pretty violent city, San Antonio. The funny thing is that a generation ago some previous owner of the paper had been very anti-Mexican, and we had to live this down, and we said the Mexicans will love this and they’ll buy it. We didn’t put more than a few hundred on the West side. It was the gringos, deeply shocked by this, who turned out to buy it. All the increase went on on the affluent North side. So there you are.

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Why did you come here? 

Three things worried me about Fleet Street, why we had a go here. The first thing was the frustration, the daily bloody arguments with chapels, broken agree­ments, endless fights. I remember seeing Roy Thomson and he said, ‘Why aren’t you in Australia?’ I said, why aren’t you in Canada, and he said, ‘I won’t let the bastards beat me.’ I said to myself, I don’t want to be a bitter old man of 80, saying I don’t want the bastards to beat me, when they would have beaten me 40 years before. There was something awfully tragic about his attitude to it.

And the other thing was, I just wasn’t prepared to join the system. You know, if I’d stayed in England much longer… maybe I just have an inferiority complex about being an Australian. My wife accuses me of this sometimes. But you’ve got some money, and you tend to send your kids to the school you can most afford; you join the old-school-tie system and you’re going to be dragged into the so-called social establish­ment somehow. I never was. Just as we were being invited round to places, we’d catch Lord Lambton in bed or something, and then we’d be barred from everything. In England, you’re a big fish; people are always looking at you because the press loves to make a lot of you, to attack you. It’s very difficult not at some point to be sucked into the establishment. The last thing I wanted was to be a bloody press lord. I think, when people start taking knighthoods and peerages, it really is telling the world you’ve sold out. I’ve never been offered one; well, I’ve been offered a knighthood a few times, but no, I wouldn’t take one.

America is a much freer society, but the business framework of the American press is such that it’s very hard. There must be a way through it. I haven’t found it yet, but the New York Post is a great start. We’ll try. The Star turned out to be an impossible dream. We had to let it devolve into a women’s weekly newspaper, because you can only get to the public in a supermarket, and 90 per cent of the buyers there are women. It was an impossible dream as a weekly popular newspaper. I would say it’s over 1.5 million. It’s good. It makes about $20,000 a week. I thought, flushed with success in England, I suppose, that we could rush in here and we would have something making a lot of money, which would be nice and impressive to the bankers when we borrowed the money to buy a big paper. But it’s taken a lot of money and a lot of effort, though we learned a lot about the way the system works and the barriers to starting on the national level.

Still, the charge against you is that you go for the gut readership, the down-market readership, and then you sock it very hard. And there’s little evidence — apart from The Australian — that you’re interested in much else. Why, ultimately, are you in newspapers at all? 

There’s two answers — two explanations. One is that we started with a very small paper — 20 years ago in Adelaide — and we’ve never had much money. We’ve al­ways had to borrow and expand and we’ve always had to buy what’s available. So we always got the sick papers and had to turn them around. And so with our biggest papers it was always a battle for survival. So we had to go for circulation — not neces­sarily a bad thing.

The second explanation is that I am — if you can psychoanalyze yourself — a very competitive fellow, and I like selling more papers than the next guy. Have I cut corners, against my own principles? I would argue not. Not that I think every single story we have ever run is perfect. I don’t think there is anything to be ashamed of in selling as many papers as you can. Sometimes, in The Sun, the packaging has been blatantly entertaining. No harm in that. I don’t think we’ve corrupted the morals of the British people. Why am I in papers? I just love it. The only other thing I like is politics, and I’ve never let myself get into that. I think you prostitute your news­papers once you start joining political parties. People have done the two. But, to me, that would be really terrible.

Who Is Rupert Murdoch, Anyway? 

The new game in town is guessing what Rupert Murdoch will do with the Post. The jokes abound. “Smut and Socialism” was one hopelessly optimistic prediction. Wags scribbled headlines such as “Fiend Buys ‘Post’ (from Fiend).” “When did you know that Murdoch had bought the Post,” one denizen of South Street was asked. “At three o’clock on Friday, when I saw Wechsler and Sann in suits talking to each other,” came the reply. Post people groaned that Dolly had not even deigned to give the paper the scoop for its last edi­tion.

But what will a newspaper proprietor with powerful publications in Australia and in Britain do, now that he has bought into the action in New York? What does his career tell us?

***

Murdoch’s father, Keith, was a famous Australian newsman, particularly noted for breaking the story, through fierce military censorship, of the ghastly British reverses in Gallipoli in 1915. In his later career, Sir Keith, as he became, built up a commanding position in Australian news­papers, notably the Melbourne Herald. Young Rupert, born in 1931, drank in newspaper lore at his father’s knee, re­ceived a classy education at Geelong Grammar, and, indeed, worked on the Melbourne Herald in such areas as the police beat before going off to Oxford.

He returned to a situation slightly less full of promise than he had thought. Al­though Sir Keith was powerful at the Melbourne Herald, he lacked the shares for full control.

At all events, following the death of his father, Rupert was left with only a small province of what had been, prospectively, a large empire. His father had, along the way, acquired the Adelaide Daily News and it was in Adelaide, with this afternoon paper, that Murdoch really began his newspapering career.

Success in Adelaide brought him to Syd­ney and a serious engagement in the savage world of Australian journalism, in particular, Australian newspaper wars. A famous adornment of Australia’s press world had been the Norton family, father and son. Old John Norton was a crazed, villainous megalomaniac, given to such statements in his magazine Truth that Winston Churchill was “a witless wild ass, a bulgy-eyed, frothy mouthed, loose ton­gued, leather lunged, British Yankee half­-breed… a demented decadent, the bla­tant brain-mad bounder… this sibilating shyster.” The old boy was noted, among other antics, for urinating publicly in the chamber of the state legislature.

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His son Ezra later remembered his fa­ther calling him to observe the crowds strolling home from church beneath his balcony. “Look at them,” said old John as he studied his readers, “look at them in all their Sunday finery, the bloody hypocrites. Never forget this, my son. When you carry on my great work in Truth, keeping up its traditions, without fear or favor, you will be in the same position of trust as me, always able to pour a bucket of shit over the lot of them.”

The great newspaper battle in Sydney was between two afternoon papers, the Mirror, owned by Ezra Norton, and the Sun, owned by the Fairfax interests. On Ezra’s death, the Fairfax-cum-Melbourne Herald crowd briefly held the Sun before selling it to Murdoch, thinking that the would-be press tycoon would sink under its weight.

As other opponents later discovered, it is a mistake to underestimate Murdoch in a circulation war. The competition was ter­rific, and the recipe one of titillation (not­ably schoolgirls’ diaries) and muckraking. Murdoch, again in a pattern, got a good editor called Zell Rabin (who worked ceaselessly and died prematurely) and went to it. The war more or less continues to this day. One editor on the Sydney Morning Herald describes the Mirror and the Sun as “perhaps the two worst in the world.” Through four editions each day the two battle it out. The Sun is less raunchy, the Mirror’s girls bulge provocatively. The suggestion of a nipple in the first edition becomes an announcement by the second. In 1974, the rivalry reached an exquisite point when the two papers announced competing comic-strip versions of the Bible. After three days the Sun was well ahead, having reached Samson, whereas the Mirror was still in the Garden of Eden.

Gradually, Murdoch expanded his inter­ests, establishing his access to bank money and buying up profitable strings of subur­ban newspapers such as the Cumberland group. He acquired the Sidney Daily Tele­graph and in 1965 started up a national paper, The Australian in Canberra. Pre­sent claims that this is a jewel of serious­ness in a crown of tripe are a little overstated. The Australian has seriously declined in quality. But it was a creditable gamble by Murdoch.

***

In the mid-’60s, Murdoch met the would­-be press tycoon Robert Maxwell, over from Britain on a business spree. Murdoch formed a low estimate of this character and is quoted by one memorialist as saying at the time that he would travel halfway round the world to throw the fellow a concrete lifebelt. Then his chance came. Maxwell was trying to take over the News of the World, famed receptacle of British prurience. Murdoch immediately joined the other side, namely the defending team of Carr-Jackson interests, who were para­lyzed as rabbits in the face of Maxwell’s forceful overtures. Murdoch instantly per­ceived the correct ploy, which was to attack the share price of Pergamon, Max­well ‘s company, and the currency in which he was making his bid. Murdoch also turned his investigators loose on Maxwell’s Australian operations. By such techniques, Murdoch routed Maxwell, and, indeed, inflicted a permanent dent on that gentle­man’s career. Simultaneously, he turned on the News of the World owners who were hopefully waving him back off to Australia again and told them brusquely he was there to stay.

His second big newspapering chance came in the early 1970s in Britain. IPC — the London Daily Mirror’s company — was desperately trying to keep The Sun, a wobbling liberal daily descended from the old social­ist Daily Herald, afloat. Resigning themselves to permanent loss, they finally sold it to Murdoch. At that time the Mirror was the leading tabloid in England. Once again, as in Sidney, Murdoch fought a hard and no doubt formative circulation war. Connoisseurs well remember the loving care with which Sun subeditors would discuss the girl picture on page three, debating effects of chiaroscuro and light­ing, whereas the Mirror’s men would guilt­ily bung in their pinup with shameful laxity. Murdoch’s team, socking out the sex and tightly edited stories and stirring headlines, has now won the day.

***

Murdoch, with such successes and a handy slice of London Weekend Television stock under his belt, came to the United States in 1973. He launched The National Star with a disastrous $5 million ad campaign — disastrous since few copies were actually available for the eager readers. He bought the San Antonio Express and Evening News for $17 million, making the latter a byword with such great headlines as the one which pushed aside the national Democratic convention: “THUGS ROB EX-MAYOR, BEAT DOG.” Now, after trying to buy the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Washington Star, he has the Post. Simultaneously, he is on the verge of buying the Observer.

***

There are a number of things to get straight about Murdoch. He is not, as Time suggests this week, just interested in “making merry and making money.” He is extremely interested in politics, and his views, notably in Australia, have had enor­mous effect. In 1972, almost all Murdoch’s Australian newspapers keenly supported Gough Whitlam and the Australian Labor Party, out of power for over 25 years. After Whitlam’s victory Murdoch’s general manager, John Menadue, went to work for Whitlam as his private secretary and is now Australian ambassador in Tokyo. Murdoch’s disillusion with Whitlam was fairly rapid. By 1974, his papers were warming up against Whitlam — a feud, say some, fueled by the fact that Whitlam blocked the transfer of funds out of Australia which Murdoch needed for newspaper and mining enterprises.

The campaign Murdoch ran in all his Australian newspapers against Whitlam was unbelievably ferocious. Journalists, particularly on The Australian, were ordered to turn out the assaults and were shouldered aside or ejected by Murdoch’s anti-Whitlam heavy cadres if they refused. Volley after volley of fierce editorials (sometimes such as the brief one in the Sydney Mirror, announcing “To hell with the MPs. All of them, no matter their party”) ranged out across the country. Finally, Whitlam was dismissed by the Governor-General, amid Murdochian applause. Labor unions boycotted The Australian. Crowds invaded the Sydney Mirror and burned copies of the paper in the streets. Even after Whitlam’s fall, Murdoch kept up the attack: personally sending dispatches about Whitlam to his Australian papers about the fallen premier’s bizarre dealings with the Iraqis. Murdoch’s English papers have been similarly pungent about left-wing Labor MPs. His early laborite views seem to be diminishing. He is, in short, far from being a Roy Thomson, merely tracking his papers for profit margins.

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It should also be remembered that Murdoch comes from an extremely rough school, probably the roughest journalistic school in the world. Australian journalists often fondly recall famed anecdotes of the press magnates’ fearsome behavior: Sir Frank Packer hiring a boxer to beat up one of his own columnists and so forth. Murdoch was formed in these genteel surroundings and has been fending for himself successfully ever since.

Employees across the world hold him in relatively good esteem. He makes a point of remembering all their names and is at home in his newsrooms. The business side of all his papers is tightly and effi­ciently run. He does not casually splurge money. He believes in “competitive ten­sion,” having executives vie with each other in a sort of Social-Darwinist free-fire zone of overlapping responsibilities until the fittest triumphs. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it does not: the Star has been through about six editors, including Murdoch himself. This can make his businesses uncomfortable places for senior personnel to work. One recurring pattern is that Murdoch will finally find the right editor for one of his papers, enjoy fine relations with him until some immense bust-up after about three years terminates the relationship. Ruthless purges are not unknown in his organization. He believes, as he says, in English subeditors and Australian journalists. In a crisis, he tends to fall back on the “Australian Mafia.”

***

How quickly will Murdoch move in on the Post? No doubt his financial aide George Viles will go down with him, as will James Brady — now in idle gear at the Star. An early entry may be Ray Kerrison, the Star’s racing man. He is not particularly afraid of a circulation war with the Daily News’s possible bulldog edition (carrying close-of-market results, put out at 4 p.m.). He reckons that with the McCormick trust going public next year and the unions demanding separate staffing for the bulldog edition, the News-Tribune group would not like to see its public offering damaged by any losses in New York. Otherwise, he is ready for war.

He’ll ask a lot of his writers, some of whom may be unused to the ministrations of English subeditors. An early onslaught of naked women in the Post is not expected, since — as one recent employee put it — “this is Rupert’s bid for respectability.” Besides which, this particular brew is not what he regards as being called for at the Post, at least not in present circumstances. Someone I spoke to compared him jovially with Jimmy Carter: high purposes, with no reluctance to descend into the mire when circumstances require it. Above all, as Murdoch said to me, he likes to sell more newspapers than the next fellow. Possibly spurred by some sense of competition with his famous father, he now is a major newspaper force in three separate areas of the English-speaking world. He’s a likable fellow, but no one could say that he has got to his present powerful position by consis­tently overestimating the intelligence of his readers. The final addendum to this thought is that many acquaintances and employees think that, in the right circumstances, he is not necessarily prone to underestimating it either.

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Murdoch Resigns from Major Newspaper Posts

A few weeks back, we examined a day in the tweeting life of NewsCorp Presidente, Rupert Murdoch – the notorious purveyor of conservative commentary and, recently, the subject of a widespread Parliamentary investigation into a phone-hacking scandal that has consumed the entire company. Through his tweets, he upset the Romney campaign, the Scientology community and defended his case against the Levenson Inquiry. However, it looks like he’ll have to defend his case against his own company.

The Telegraph is now reporting that the Australian Darth Vader of mainstream media will be resigning from the posts of the British newspapers The Sun, The Times and the Sunday Times. According to NewsCorp’s filings last week, Murdoch stepped down as chief of the media organizations NI Group, the Times Newspapers Holdings and News Corp Investments in the UK. He also stepped down from a few posts back here in the U.S. but the SEC has yet to disclose exactly which ones.

All of this is a result of the increasingly awkward position Parliament has left Murdoch in. As more cracks in NewsCorp were revealed, it was becoming evident that the CEO had some sort of knowledge of the illegal activities going on at News of the World, the subsidiary tabloid where the troubles all started. The dominoes soon began to fall into place: Murdoch’s son, James, resigned from News International and BSkyB while Board members were cut left and right.

Now, it’s daddy’s turn to pay.

Many speculators believe that Murdoch’s resignation is a sign that he is preparing to sell the newspaper group. The Board of Trustees at NewsCorp has already told the press that it will be splitting in half: one side being the troubled newspaper/publishing side (The New York Post, Wall Street Journal, et cetera) and the other being the film/television side (Fox News, Fox Spotlight, et cetera).

Regardless, the move is a cataclysmic shift in a scandal that embroiled the company ten times over. The phrases “Murdoch” and “resigning” in the same sentence are enough evidence to say that this is a huge deal. Now, the questions remains: what will happen to the Murdoch empire? What’s the future of the largest concentration of power in media? Will the Murdoch legacy live on or is gone for good?

One answer has already been provided for us. According to the Telegraph, Murdoch’s plan could be that he will wait for after the split to sell his newspaper share and the use the equity for a leveraged buyout of the film/television counterparts.

This proves, yet again, that Rupert will never, ever leave.
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A Day in the Tweeting Life of Rupert Murdoch

When it rains, it pours.
The CEO of NewsCorp is a recent inductee to the Twitter community, joining this past December and, for someone who owns a sliver of the world, still only has 250,000 followers or so. But such perfect timing: just as the Parliamentary inquiry into Murdoch’s business was heating up, the Aussie businessman’s Twitter feed ran parallel to what he was saying to British lawmakers.
It was like his plea in 140 characters. Other than that, his tweets are mostly neutral, focusing more on article recommendations and family outings.
But, today was a bit different. In a matter of hours, Murdoch, through three separate tweets, has managed to upset both the Scientology and Republican communities in the most subtlety Murdochian way possible. (Murdochian, adj. – performing an act with the Imperial grace of Darth Vader).
With great power comes great tweets.

It all started with a simple tweet about the Romney tent:

 

After meeting the Presidential hopeful last week, presumably in a dark castle somewhere, Murdoch came to the conclusion that his team is worthless in comparison to Obama’s, specifically on the issue of immigration. Along with Bloomberg and other business folk, Murdoch is all about the economic benefits of immigration. And, according to his tweet, he doesn’t think the Republican candidate has his shit together. The inclusion of ‘Doubtful’ at the end has the “Pshhhh” tone to it, too, like a quote out of Mean Girls. With the head of conservative media not on your side, this spells trouble for Romney.

And then, in a complete 180, Murdoch turned his attention to the Holmes/Cruise debacle and its Scientology foundations – a beat Voice editor-in-chief, Tony Ortega, has been covering:

 

 

Rupert Murdoch called the followers of Scientology creepy and evil. Enough said.

Expect the masses to swarm:

 

As per usual for anyone with over 10,000 tweeters following your every word, a controversial statement is going to cause some sort of blowback. But, also as per usual for Murdoch, he is unfazed by the attacks. And he vows to “stick to [his] story,” which is just saying that Scientologists are evil and creepy.

Oh, Rupert. We love you.

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Luncheon at OWS in Zuccotti Park Is No Sunday in the Park

Despite reports dripping with sarcasm (or maybe it was saliva) in the New York Post and other blue-blood rags about demonstrators at the Occupy Wall Street encampment feasting on gourmet vittles, my visit there this afternoon proved otherwise.

For carnivores: sardines mashed with parsley and salad oil on a baguette (click on any image to enlarge)

Lunch today was a sardine sandwich on a short length of baguette, a serving of boiled corn, and a vegetarian stew of potatoes, peppers, and diverse beans. That was it. There wasn’t a shred of arugula or lobe of foie gras in sight. In fact, the campers I talked to were perpetually short on vittles, despite individuals generously putting out bowls of chips, breakfast cereals, and vegetarian dips at nearly every turn in the narrow paths that wend their way through tents and tables, as demonstrators milled around, clutching cups of bodega coffee.

In fact, any food that you can bring down to Zuccotti Park, prepared or otherwise, will be appreciated.

The vegetarian bean stew should be labeled “makeshift” rather than “gourmet.”

Next: More pictures from Zuccotti Park

The cooks hard at work under the blue tent

The friendly front-of-the-house staff

One corner of the OWS encampment

A couple of lefty celebrities: comedian Randy Credico (upper right), and Aron Kaye (below, on the phone), the anarchist who famously threw pies at Rupert Murdoch, G. Gordon Liddy, Phyllis Schlafly, and William Shatner. William Shatner?

 

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When Rupert Murdoch Was My Boss

Now that Rupert Murdoch himself is the news, I add to his legend what it was like when he owned the Voice. First, a necessary prelude: The last time I saw him was after he had sold the newspaper. It was at a book party at Fox News in New York for Judge Andrew Napolitano, whose beat is to fiercely protect the Constitution—including denouncing Bush-Cheney and Obama.

Having often quoted Napolitano, I was there at Fox that day. Seeing Murdoch, I went to where he was seated. Identifying myself as from the Voice, I gave him my clearly unwelcome congratulations: “You are the most effective labor organizer I’ve ever known about.”

Murdoch knew what I was talking about. Lowering his head a bit, he sighed, “The Village Voice, the bane of my existence.” He had no idea, of course, that years hence, his News of the World, Britain’s long most powerful and profitable newspaper, would be a worse thorn in his side.

My tribute to him was about what happened soon after he bought the Voice, among his other U.S. properties at the time. For quite a while, other staffers and I had been trying to bring a union into this newspaper—and we failed. The young staff had been strongly against the war in Vietnam, as had I. But organized labor, the AFL-CIO, stoutly supported our involvement. Accordingly, most Voice employees were anti-union.

Being anti-union was also Murdoch’s reputation. In 1986, after beginning to produce his papers here and elsewhere by using advanced electronics, he cut lots of jobs. And in Wapping, England, he fired many protesting workers who had gone on strike, fueling violent street battles with agents of management.

This bitterly anti-union side of his history was circulated at the Voice and quickly, employees from nearly all divisions filed downtown to District 65 on Astor Place—a catch-all local spanning workers at various shops. It was later absorbed by the United Auto Workers Union (UAW), the present representative of Voice workers.

I expect what Murdoch meant when he told me the Voice was the bane of his existence had to do with the swift unionization of this shop when it was suddenly taken over by this strikebreaker from England.

But also, the Voice then had a reputation as a fractious place—reporters disputed with management and with one another. This roiling place was to be run by a hands-on iconic figure who was on his way to being listed three times in “Time 100,” the magazine’s choices among the most influential people in the world. He’d bought a bee’s nest.

I remember when, having bought the New York Post, Murdoch had an office there. Covering a sharp disagreement between some Post staffers and Murdoch, I went there to interview him for a Voice story. He was not forthcoming, and finally as I started to leave his office, Murdoch loudly instructed me: “And you can’t criticize me!”

Of course, we did. More than once. We survived.

As of this writing, Murdoch’s aura as a superconfident, savvy empire builder—including in this country—is disintegrating. While he was here, I found out that, to keep right on top and inside his properties around the world, he’d stay in touch with them, even at odd hours here. He was managing from afar.

With all that’s coming out now—with more to come—consider how long News of the World executives were deeply and intricately involved with the hacking and bribery throughout that news-manipulating empire. I find it impossible to believe that commander-in-chief Murdoch didn’t know precisely what was going on—despite his testimony to the contrary before Parliament.

So I’ve not been surprised to hear reports that independent members among those on the board of News Corp. “are beginning to discuss whether Rupert Murdoch can stay on as the CEO of the company he founded and has almost completely dominated” (Huffington Post, July 18). Conceivably, there could be a partial breakup of his imposing macrocosm. Rupert may remain in control of sections—the Fox cable networks, for one possibility.

However unlikely, should he ever think of taking over, among other additional acquisitions, Village Voice Media, I remind him that I’m still here and out of step, like my favorite comic strip as a child, Popeye the Sailor Man. “I am what I am.”

In the vast coverage of his still mounting tribulations, I was particularly impressed by “Murdoch’s Political Money Trail” (Laura Colarusso, The Daily Beast, July 15): “. . . . In 2010, News Corp. used some of its budget to urge Congressional Republicans to keep the federal government from intervening with the Cablevision franchise in New York over its attempt to double the fees charged to broadcast Murdoch’s News Corp. programming, which led to a temporary blackout.”

And dig this about “Fair and Balanced” multidimensional news emperor Rupert Murdoch: “The vast majority of Murdoch’s money. . . . goes to Republican candidates and causes. In 2010, as the GOP was trying to retake the House, Senate, and several state houses, News Corp. donated an eye-popping $1.25 million to the Republican Governors Association and $1 million to the Chamber of Commerce.”

Keenly perceptive reporter Colarusso tells us: “As the News of the World imbroglio grows, more attention is being paid to that second seven-figure gift because the Chamber [of Commerce] has been advocating reforming the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act—the very law the Justice Department could use to pursue News Corp. executives for the phone-hacking scandal.”

Not only in England, but also right here. Congressional Democrats—though certainly not Republicans—are egging on the already involved FBI to further pursue any possibly unlawful practices by Murdoch media corporations here. Already it’s looking into the hacking of phones of 9/11 victims.

The U.S. Senate has just obliged President Obama by passing a special two-year extension of FBI Director Robert Mueller’s term. Rupert Murdoch would be wise to consult Fox News’ constitutionalist Andrew Napolitano about Director Mueller’s long-practiced encouragement of the FBI’s extrajudicial ways of secretly obtaining information about “persons of interest.”

Certainly never before in his fabled career has Rupert Murdoch been such a “person of interest.”

Of particular interest to New Yorkers as Murdoch’s troubles expand, former schools chancellor Joel Klein—who left behind overcrowded classrooms, neglect of students with special needs, and excessive suspensions of students—has been chosen by his current boss, Rupert Murdoch, to conduct an internal investigation of his grievously wounding scandal.

I’m surprised Klein didn’t get our police commissioner, Ray Kelly, who was that chancellor’s czar of student discipline, to help out.

If News Corp. doesn’t rebound enough to survive, a casualty would be “Mr. Klein’s compensation package, which will exceed $4.5 million this year, company filings show. He is eligible for News Corporation stock awards and receives a $1,200 monthly car allowance.” (New York Times, July 24)

Worst possible case, if News Corp. goes under, the present chancellor, Dennis Walcott, who has praised Klein’s record in that position, could bring him back to the Department of Education as a previously experienced, wise problem solver. But not as a coordinator of complaints from parents of the city’s public school students. As chancellor, Klein was largely indifferent to parents’ criticisms. Such an appointment could result in parents’ picketing the ultimate education boss, our Education Mayor, who has yet to be held significantly accountable for what Klein left behind.

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Did Getting Pied Save Rupert Murdoch? Stephen Colbert Thinks So.

On The Colbert Report last night, a case was made for being humanized by pie. When Rupert Murdoch, under investigation for hacking victims’ phones, was attacked with a foam pie on Tuesday, it caused his stock to spike. Is there anything pie can’t do?

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A Gift Guide for Rupert Murdoch’s 79th Birthday: 79 Presents to Give the Chairman

Happy Birthday, Rupert Murdoch! At the great old age of 79, the media baron’s going to have to be gifted well. Who knows how many he has left? It’s late in the day and you still haven’t gotten him anything, and you don’t know what to get him? Funny you should ask. We’ve got a few decent ideas, right this way:

1. Just a nice dinner with the family. That’s it! Really. That’s all he needs.
2. Full series order for Baby American Gladiators, to toughen and ready infant children to do battle with decrepit “teenagers” from past marriages.
3. Just a card.
4. To get away from this one-horse town.
5. An episode of Intervention for Col Allen.
6. Whoopie cushions for the viewing party. With Mort Zuckerman’s face on them.
7. A Party of Five reunion.
8. A cat named “Meow Jones.”
9. A box of Droopy Dog temporary tattoos.
10. A pretty yellow box.
11. A Chihuahua named “Slim.”
12. A Doberman to eat it.
13. A Sasquatch to eat the Doberman.
14. A New York Post reporter who can catch the Sasquatch eating the Doberman without calling it “Darkie.”
15. Actually kind of just wants “the Mexican” to go ahead and buy the New York Times.
16. A new beginning.
17. A Frisbee that doesn’t hurt his mouth so much. 🙁
18. A ball gag.
19. Someone to put a ball gag on Roger Ailes.
20. A rock of Unobtanium.
21. A way to smoke it.
22. A Na’vi dicktail.
23. A triple bypass.
24. A Zhu Zhu pet.
25. The collector’s edition of Licensed to Drive.
26. A poster of a comically overweight cat stretched out on the Sunday Styles that reads I CAN HAZ SULZBURGUR.
27 – 47. New teeth, individually gifted, set apart on a scavenger hunt in the backyard.
48. An advance copy of Tha Carter IV.
49. Commemorative Stack of Paper Speech Paper Stacks.
50. A mashup of that speech and the “Numa Numa” song.
51. A Gosselin child. Preferably Aaden.
52. A Brangelina child. Any one will do, really.
53. A series order for Celebrity Baby American Gladiators.
54. The Arrested Development movie, like yesterday.
55. The two hours he spent watching Precious returned to him.
56. A walk-on one-liner on Gossip Girl: “I’m Chuck Bass.”
57. An eight-ball and some Rush on vinyl and to be left the fuck alone.
58. A pet rock named Lil’ Rupe with googly eyes.
59. Simon Cowell’s hair plugs.
60. Randy Jackson’s ear plugs.
61. Ryan Seacrest’s “caboose” plugs.
62. Some kind of written and verified admission from Seth McFarlane that he just blatantly rips off The Simpsons because even he knows it’s like so true, right?
63. A live goldfish. To eat.
64. Tickets to Cats.
65. A train set that runs “on time.”
66. Pants for everyone at the New York Post. Even those gossip writers. Especially those gossip writers.
67. A vanity plate that spells “NEWZBRAH.”
68. This cane.
69. This inflatable bedpan chair.
70. An hour with kids so someone can show him how to “delete this goddamn MySpace thing.”
71. A comically oversize phallus-shaped gavel, so he can bang his dick on the table harder than you.
72. Salsa lessons.
73. Coffee, “and not the shit we serve here.”
74. Wants Jimmy and Gary to be friends, just for him, just while he’s there.
75. A night out with Michael Wolff so he can roofie him, draw balls on his head in permanent marker, take a picture with him giving a passed-out Wolff the thumbs up and then for someone to post it to “the MySpace”
76. This Opening Ceremony toothbrush.
77. Refurbished jowls.
78. A search engine with a paywall in front of it, behind which, every search result turns up the same thing.
79. Cancer.

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Rupert Murdoch on Potential NYT Owner Carlos Slim: Mexican’t

Rupert Murdoch Is Old! week continues. New York writer Gabriel Sherman’s profile on News Corp’s geriatric general dropped yesterday, bringing forth the question of just how old, scrappy, and bloodthirsty the Grumpy Old Mogul is. Primarily of concern was how he was going to make the New York Times die before he does. Then yesterday afternoon, the Times stock rose 7% on rumors and speculation that Mexican billionaire NYT shareholder Carlos Slim was going to buy the rest of the company. Which Slim denied. This is good for Murdoch, because apparently, Carlos Slim buying the Times would’ve really thrown him for a loop. Because Slim’s a Mexican. And Mexicans don’t buy newspapers.

Because they’re Mexican.

Via Reuters media reporter Yinka Adegoke, who saw him get colorful over Slim’s ethnicity, speaking before the New York Board of Realtors:

Oh, come on. It’s not because he’s brown or anything. It’s because he’s so great:

Mexicans: sensitive, savvy media buyers who won’t buy failing companies. Unlike those willing to post $6.4B in losses after buying a company that once wrote with great confidence that other hurting companies resembling itself aren’t even worth buying. Unless, of course, you’re like Murdoch, and have a death grudge against one of said hurting companies. In which case it’s both a smart and sensitive investment. For a white guy. An old white guy. Who — despite being quick enough to cover for it — still occasionally says some fairly loco, racist shit.

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Rupert Murdoch: Won’t Die Until WSJ Quenches Thirst for Sulzberger Milkshake with $100K Coffee

Good Media Magnate Monday Morning! screams New York‘s website with media reporter Gabriel Sherman’s deliriously fun cover story of an old, cranky, combative, elbows-out Rupert Murdoch who basically wants to destroy the New York Times with his most recent purchase, the Wall Street Journal, before he kicks the bucket. And it’s going to take $100,000 of coffee a year to do it. Does it have a sweet bottom note of cocoa? Berries? Blood, bile, and piss? We found out from deep inside the Journal‘s confines.

Sherman finds the News Corp. chairman on a mission to assert his red-blooded virility in the face of what John Cook characterized as a “crumbling” empire just this last Thursday on Gawker. Timely! Some of the plotlines include Murdoch’s laughable crackpot war with Google indexing News Corp. content, which is something he thinks they should pay for (and is supposedly considering suing over), and Fox News chief Roger Ailes, whose money Murdoch enjoys, but whose politics cause him headaches (like a PR snafu involving Rupe’s son-in-law being quoted slamming Fox News to a very willing press outlet).

Yet the best is saved for Murdoch’s white whale: said willing press outlet, the New York Times, noted as one his “ancient enemies” constructed of “characteristic self-interest wrapped in a cloak of high-toned moralism.” Especially when it comes to NYT chief Arthur Sulzberger, who Sherman notes is “a symbol of the Times‘ hypocrisy, its smugness, and its shortcomings” for Murdoch. The crux of this narrative is that Murdoch plans on taking Sulzberger down with the Wall Street Journal, which is played as his very expensive, shiny warhorse. Observe:

Murdoch has made the Journal feel like the center of his universe. He spent $80 million to transform four floors of News Corp.’s office tower into a state-of-the-art newsroom for the Journal. It is something of a showpiece. At the center of the cavernous space is a cluster of desks and computers known as “the Hub,” a Star Trek-like bridge where top editors pilot the paper’s 24/7 mission. Around the room, flat-screen televisions broadcast Fox News and the struggling Fox Business Network (“We’re doing our bit to help Fox Business,” Thomson joked to his staff). Digital clocks display the time in Singapore, New York, and London. Coffee machines are stationed throughout the floors, and the annual coffee budget runs $100,000. The newsroom buzzes with a confidence unusual for these times. “I didn’t go into journalism in 1975 to end up working for Rupert Murdoch,” David Wessel, the Journal’s well-regarded economics editor, told me, “but it sure turns out to be nice to have a deep-pocketed owner at this time in the industry.”

So, Murdoch cares about print, and making the Wall Street Journal his Print Machine of Death with a tough staff who will help him bleed out the Times and Sulzberger with a shiny office and a new Metropolitan section called “Project Amsterdam,” a name that invokes less the bong-friendly culture of the Dutch city’s present and more its rooting-helpless-Jews-out-of-top-floor-spaces past. The new section’s going to be “an eight-to-sixteen-page metropolitan section that will directly challenge the paper of record on its home turf.” Fun! Like a cockfight! But more importantly: $100,000 on coffee a year? What’s that like? We investigated.

$100,000 of coffee a year comes out to $273 and change a day.
Keeping the Journal’s aforementioned “24-hour mission” in mind, they’re drinking $11 of coffee an hour.

At Stumptown Coffee, New York’s new of-the-moment coffee spot in the Ace Hotel, a small cup of black coffee is $2. At Starbucks, a small cup of coffee is now $1.50 before tax, which is 182 cups of coffee a day, which would be 7.5 cups of coffee an hour. Murdoch’s probably buying in serious bulk, though, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, and say he’s getting coffee cheaper than his employees would be able to buy it at the cart downstairs on 5th Avenue: $0.25/cup. Why the hell not? That’s 1,092 cups of coffee a day, 44 or 45 cups of coffee an hour. And most coffee drinkers are addicts, so as long as there aren’t more than 44 different people per hour who only require one cup of coffee each day, they’re fine.

The point is, for a guy who spent $80M on a new office, $100,000 a year isn’t that much to spend on coffee. Particularly if you want your employees to goosestep to the beat of a dropping Times stock price. We interviewed one Wall Street Journal staffer on what their $100,000/year coffee is like, and if it’s up to snuff for Murdoch’s ink-gangsters.

So: How is it?

Adequate. A little weak for my taste but better than most single-cup machines. Brand is Flavia. Consensus is their espresso roast is best.

There are choices? Are condiments provided?

At least a dozen varieties of coffee and tea. Paper cups, stirrers, sugar, Splenda, Equal, Sweet n Low, skim, 1%, 2%, half-and-half.

Wow. So, just to be clear, it does not taste like the blood of fired NYT reporters? No metallic-tasting bottom notes?

We sweeten our coffee with the profits from Avatar. I can only assume the coffee is not fair trade.

There you go: no coffee is black enough for the souls at the Wall Street Journal, not even when produced with the sweat and tears of presumably malnourished coffee harvesters, though there are choices, many of them, including a premium sweetener the rest of the non-Journal public doesn’t have access to: Na’vi blood. Finally, no comment on plans to start drinking the fine floral notes of boiling hot water poured over ground-up Times staffers, but given Sherman’s profile, it’s something Murdoch’s no doubt considered. A definitive projection on whether or not he’ll make it there–and make it there alive–remains to be seen. Because he’s either going to squash the New York Times like a bug, leave behind a not-crumbling empire for his spawn, leave behind a crumbling empire for his spawn, or stop caring and die. At some point, though, he will die.
The Raging Septuagenarian
[NY Mag]

The Fall of the House of Murdoch [Gawker]