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Rupert Murdoch's media legacy takes a U-turn

When Peter Chernin was running Twentieth Century Fox, he was asked at an industry conference how he saw the company's...

Posted: Dec 14, 2017 4:38 PM
Updated: Dec 14, 2017 4:38 PM

When Peter Chernin was running Twentieth Century Fox, he was asked at an industry conference how he saw the company's future. "A lot of Murdochs," he quipped.

Indeed, mogul Rupert Murdoch has always run his companies not only with a buccaneering style, but a clear eye on handing to his children the reins of the huge conglomerates he created out of the newspaper that he inherited. In 2015, he passed the baton of daily stewardship OF 21st Century Fox to his sons, James and Lachlan.

Now, however, with the decision to sell much of 21st Century Fox to the Walt Disney Co., Murdoch -- who has cut such a wide path through the entertainment industry -- has left his heirs a considerably smaller legacy.

Murdoch reshaped the TV business in a number of key ways, almost always through audacious moves. He established a fourth broadcast network in the mid-1980s, launched Fox News a decade later, and in between nabbed sports rights and top affiliates from the major networks in industry-shaking deals that severed longstanding relationships, before changing the playbook in terms of how sports is presented.

Fox also advanced what many critics saw as a race to the content bottom, stooping to conquer with everything from tabloid magazines like "A Current Affair" to boundary-pushing reality-TV shows like "When Animals Attack" to, yes, Fox News.

At the same time, the executives working under Murdoch were often empowered to take risks that led to major breakthroughs. The film division bet on "Titanic" and "Avatar," and director James Cameron rewarded those gambles with record-breaking blockbusters. Capitalizing on Marvel's past financial woes, Fox wound up with rights to "X-Men" and "Fantastic Four," fumbling with film versions of the latter, but turning the former into a major movie staple.

Related: Disney buys 21st Century Fox: Who gets what

Yes, Fox could plumb the depths in TV, but it also gave the world "The Simpsons," "American Idol" and "The X-Files," as well as "Glee" and "This is Us" (which Fox's studio produces for NBC). Starting with "The Shield" and continuing on to critical darlings like "The Americans" and "The People v. O.J. Simpson," has repeatedly helped demonstrate that basic cable could match premium networks in ambition and prestige.

It's those content assets that Disney coveted -- they can dramatically increase its leverage in dealing with distributors and in establishing its own direct pipelines into the home -- and that the Murdochs are, surprisingly, giving up. "Surprisingly" because the deal reflects a dramatic U-turn, as the Murdochs are pivoting from trying to dramatically expand Fox through its failed 2014 acquisition bid for Time Warner to shrinking and dividing it.

Rupert Murdoch watchers have long noted that his heart has always belonged to his other media properties -- to Fox News and his newspapers -- more than the entertainment units. "There is ink in his veins," former Murdoch editor Andrew Neil testified during a hearing about Fox's proposed acquisition of the Sky TV service in London. "He is never happier than when he is spending time with journalists."

Associates and biographers also cite Murdoch's love of gossip and willingness to use those platforms to advance his own political and business objectives while punishing rivals.

Citing that dynamic almost 20 years ago, the late Don Ohlmeyer, then NBC's president, told the Columbia Journalism Review, "Until the rest of the media decide to take a hard look at Rupert's empire the way his media look at other people's empires, he's won."

Murdoch has enjoyed more than his share of historic victories, to be sure. But the empire he spent decades building just became a whole lot smaller, a shocking twist -- worthy of one of Fox's soaps -- for a major corporation that the mogul seemed determined to run like a mom-and-pop store.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 513622

Reported Deaths: 10264
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34892556
DeSoto33234432
Hinds32638641
Jackson24854389
Rankin22507403
Lee16337242
Madison14922283
Jones14113247
Forrest13766259
Lauderdale12270324
Lowndes11305193
Lamar10659140
Pearl River9719244
Lafayette8846143
Hancock7836132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7210138
Monroe7010179
Pontotoc6990109
Warren6863178
Panola6759134
Neshoba6730210
Marshall6678141
Bolivar6445151
Union638297
Pike5928156
Alcorn5879107
Lincoln5530136
George510180
Prentiss503884
Tippah491482
Itawamba4844107
Scott477899
Adams4768125
Tate4756116
Leflore4729144
Copiah456495
Yazoo456491
Simpson4546117
Wayne443072
Covington433695
Sunflower4299106
Marion4277112
Coahoma4237109
Leake413990
Newton395781
Tishomingo383593
Grenada3777109
Stone365866
Jasper340666
Attala338290
Winston317892
Chickasaw315467
Clay312278
Clarke301195
Calhoun285049
Holmes271889
Smith269052
Yalobusha243947
Tallahatchie231553
Greene224749
Walthall221666
Lawrence218740
Perry213456
Amite209857
Webster205348
Noxubee188742
Montgomery181657
Carroll174541
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152939
Kemper145041
Choctaw136727
Claiborne134338
Humphreys131239
Franklin125529
Quitman107628
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96934
Sharkey65221
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845284

Reported Deaths: 16116
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161552006
Mobile742111380
Madison53307732
Shelby38338368
Baldwin38085589
Tuscaloosa36022641
Montgomery34492781
Lee25562263
Calhoun22586518
Morgan22459406
Etowah20018517
Marshall18782316
Houston17731425
St. Clair16884358
Limestone16148218
Cullman16054303
Elmore15904294
Lauderdale14989306
Talladega14196299
DeKalb12972269
Walker12030380
Blount10717192
Autauga10517157
Jackson10162194
Coffee9417192
Colbert9342208
Dale9020191
Tallapoosa7256201
Russell708165
Chilton7018170
Escambia6957143
Covington6933195
Franklin6342108
Chambers5784142
Marion5406130
Dallas5285209
Pike5119109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4780110
Geneva4642136
Bibb434094
Barbour369580
Butler3435100
Marengo342493
Monroe337266
Randolph334867
Pickens333188
Fayette330385
Henry320666
Hale318389
Cherokee317863
Crenshaw260477
Washington257052
Cleburne254460
Lamar251453
Clay250869
Macon244864
Conecuh192862
Coosa185047
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152645
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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