Fox’s news czar tells THR about his goal to launch a new network with Bill O’Reilly, the real reason Alec Baldwin was fired and why Jeff Zucker’s strategy is no cause for concern: “I guess he’s going to do whales a lot. If I were Discovery, I’d be worried.”
Joshua Pundit: “The Hollywood Reporter has a revealing and yes, funny interview with FOX news head Roger Ailes, arguably one of the most influential people in news today and certainly one of the most successful.” Here’s a slice:
How long had you been planning the changes to the primetime block?
I’d been thinking about it for a year. CNN and MSNBC, our primary competitors, are trying to figure out how to beat us. There are some good, smart people at those networks, and even occasionally a blind pig finds an acorn. I never want to get caught with not expecting something. And I believed, in some cases, we needed to freshen up a little bit. Audiences are shifting. Platforms are shifting. Ages are shifting. It’s better to be in charge of change than to have to react to change. Fox Cable News Remains Ratings Champ As 2013 Comes to Close
Megyn Kelly, a ratings boon to primetime, has been a lightning rod since moving to 9 p.m. What do you think of the attention she got for saying, “For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white”?
I don’t like [the uproar]. She was joking. She’s talking about Santa Claus, for Christ’s sake. But the people who are jealous of her, who want to bring down or hurt Fox News, see an opportunity. If they have to beat up somebody as talented as Megyn Kelly on Santa Claus, they’re pathetic.
Other people in cable news have said things in the past few months that cost them their jobs. What did you think of MSNBC’s Alec Baldwin experiment?
They dodged a bullet. They put him in there, and they would’ve had to fire him for no ratings. He gave them a reason to get fired. He appears to be angry and explosive, so that was essentially bound to happen. If somebody wants to book Alec Baldwin on one of our shows, and he wants to come on and talk to our people and say what he wants, I don’t care. We would question him on his choice of words. He’s sort of a ready-fire-aim kind of guy as opposed to ready-aim-fire.
Among your competitors, is there any talent you particularly admire?
I think Rachel Maddow has been a surprise to a lot of people. She wouldn’t really work at this network because she wouldn’t even come in the door, but on a personal level, I like her. I don’t want to hurt her career, so I won’t say we get along, but I’ve had dialogue with her, and she’s very smart. She has adapted well to the television medium.
What do you think of Jeff Zucker saying CNN is now focused on making shows and moving away from newscasts?
I’m actually thrilled. MSNBC has [already] announced they’re out of the news business. They have several different hosts, but it’s always the same show: Republicans are no good. The NBC News people won’t get caught dead on MSNBC. They could have a traffic accident in front of the window, and they wouldn’t cover it. For CNN to also throw in the towel and announce they’re out of the news business is quite interesting. That means Fox has won the cable news wars. [Zucker] had a big hit with a whale one night [the documentary Blackfish]. I guess he’s going to do whales a lot. If I were Discovery, I’d be worried.
Fox News always has made a distinction between the news and more opinionated programming. Does Megyn’s move change the way those are defined?
I think our [viewers] are adults. They know the difference between news and programming. I grew up in the era when Dan Rather hated Richard Nixon. He was a newsman, but you knew what his opinion was. Walter Cronkite came back from Vietnam and offered his opinion on the war. I know what the news shows are, and I know what the programming shows are, and there’s a difference.
How long will Bill O’Reilly continue his show?
You can never tell. If you go back pretty far to Steve Allen and Jack Paar, they had a very short life span. Mike Wallace did it for 40 years. It’s a very individual thing. I think Bill can last as long as he wants because he’s driven by organic energy. He likes money, but he’s not doing it for the money. He probably likes power, but he’s not doing it for the power. He’s driven by things that he sees that are not right from his point of view. If his ratings were to go way down, or if he thought he’d burned out or didn’t have anything else to say, those are reasons to retire, but he is still killing everybody in the ratings.
Do you have any interest to work with Bill on other projects, like the assassination histories he’s done with National Geographic?
I do. I would like News Corp to form a history channel and let Bill work with me. I’d run it for him because I’d like history done correctly for a change. They’re not teaching the kids the real stuff. I think there is room for another channel, and I would love to do it.
Why bring back Sarah Palin just a few months after not renewing her contract?
The only two people I knew who got worse press than her were Richard Nixon and George W. Bush — some of it unfairly, much of it unfair to her family. She’s recognizable, she’s attractive, and she still has the message of stop raising taxes. The Tea Party started as a group that [the government] could make go home to bake meatloaf at any point in the last three years by simply doing two things: Stop raising taxes and stop stealing their money. Congress can’t stop spending money. I’m not a defender of everything she says. I don’t hear everything she says. But I know she represents a certain group of people who rose up against their own party, which you rarely see. I probably hired her back, if you really want to get to the bottom of it, to give her a chance to say her piece and piss off the people that wanted her dead.
CNN Said Palin Influence Far from Diminishing and Jim DeMint at the Heritage Foundation said there was no more valuable endorsement in conservative circles than that of Sarah Palin… as Ted Cruz and others have said, Palin is the Kingmaker. He also knows that she just might take another shot at the big job herself… after all who better to go head to head with Hillary Clinton. The DNC’s carrot would be electing the first female president. It truly would be the battle of the Century! And Ailes knows it!
What has having a teenager at home taught you about how younger people are consuming media?
The television set means nothing to him, other than he can get Netflix and a movie he wants. … A major sporting event, maybe, but there’s no, “It’s 8 o’clock — time to watch something!” And that generation has taught themselves to watch movies on a telephone. I find that annoying and too small.
Does the move away from TV concern you?
The real concern I have is the fragmentation. Twitter is a wonderful device. And I call it a device, but there are people that are addicted to it now. That’s not good. You’re really not very interesting using only so many letters. If you’re in the four-letter category for Scrabble, it’s a long damn game. I don’t have the problem with it that a lot of older people do, but I worry that digital media has become too much of their life.
You’re the subject of an unauthorized book (Roger Ailes: Off Camera), for which you declined to participate. Are you doing anything to counteract any negative elements?
Bette Davis said — I think it was Bette Davis — “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Attacking me and Fox News is nothing new — it’s a cottage industry. What’s new is that Random House refused to fact check the content with me or Fox News; that tells you everything you need to know about this book and its agenda. For more on Roger Ailes: Off Camera), see “Brother Roger” and the Racial Agitators.
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