Media Bigwigs Wish Rupert Murdoch a Happy 80th Birthday
As News Corp.’s chairman and chief executive celebrates Friday, the current issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine solicited memories and good wishes from his employees, colleagues and even the occasional frenemy.
The following article appears in the current issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Executive Producer, American Idol
“When I think of global media, there’s only one name in the frame: Rupert Murdoch. Rupert, happy f---ing birthday! (I was helped with my birthday message by Steven Tyler.)”
Creator/Executive producer, American Idol
“A special moment I remember with Rupert was at a party at his home in Los Angeles to celebrate our first Idol Gives Back. He was absolutely thrilled at the success of the evening and genuinely moved by what we had accomplished with a simple two-hour show on his network. I saw a real warmth and philanthropic side to Rupert that evening that greatly impressed me.”
Executive producer of Fox’s upcoming The X Factor
“He’s been one of the most loyal, supportive people I have ever worked with. I can say first-hand that this is somebody that you want to be in business with, because he just doesn’t mess around. If you’re loyal to him, he’s loyal to you. So he’s like your perfect boss. I remember once going to his house for dinner. I was sitting at one side of the table with his wife, and the table must have been 16 feet long and there were probably 14 people at the table. I remember mentioning one thing — I think it was about telephones calls on Idol — and from 16 feet away, he said, “I totally agree.” The entire table went silent. He’s just got this unbelievable ability to filter out noise. When you say something that registers, he’s on it. He’s got an unbelievable radar for what is important, and I think it’s one of the reasons he’s succeeded. He knows what’s important, and he knows what to ignore.”
“He was sort of supportive of Titanic. The truth is, you’re remarkably over budget on a picture — you’d expect somebody to completely clamp down and just cut costs as opposed to making sure the picture is delivered properly. To his credit, he didn’t go overboard on trying to cut costs at the expense of the movie. He was not pleasant, but I don’t know that’s an experience you’d be pleasant for. There was a mean-spiritedness. You couldn’t deal with anything without it coming up with some edge to it. I remember examples but I don’t want to recount them. ...
I screened the long version of the movie for him and the projector broke down. Chernin asked, “Why would you show it to him when it’s not finished?” My joke was, it was the only time he would see all his money on the screen. It was over three hours long. The film was so long and so heavy that they had trouble with the splices and the projector broke down. Sony was close by so instead he screened Air Force One. After he saw Titanic, he called and said I understand why you like it but it’s no Air Force One.
His quote on Fight Club was, “You have to be sick to make a movie like that.” He wasn’t laughing. But it’s long ago and far away. I’ve moved on.”
Former president and coo, News Corp. and Fox Entertainment Group
“When we did Titanic, I doubt things would have ended the way they did if it hadn’t been for Rupert. I was running the studio, and the movie went $100 million over budget. In those days, Rupert’s office was directly across the hall from me. Whenever somebody called me and said we needed another few million dollars, I would run across the hall and share the bad news with Rupert, because I didn’t want him to hear it elsewhere and didn’t want him to think that I was hiding anything. He would consistently say to me, “You’ve got to put this behind you; you can’t let this affect your other decisions.” And he would ask, “Do you still believe in the movie?” And I’d say, “I absolutely believe in the movie.” And he’d say, “Then just keep doing what you’re doing.”
I believed that our only hope was to make a great movie, which turned out to be the right decision. But I don’t think there is a single other entertainment company where this would have happened. Their board of directors wouldn’t have let something like this continue. And I can’t imagine that any other boss would have been that supportive and said, “If you believe in it, I’ll back you.” He clearly knew I wasn’t hiding anything from him, not even the most negative information. That’s critical with Rupert. In a crisis, there is no one better than Rupert, because he is tougher than anybody, he is stronger than anybody, and he is really willing to take those big bets. The movie opened with around $25 million, which was fine. It wasn’t a disaster. But then it basically did $25 million every single week for the next few months.”
“I have another story.In the very early days of the Fox network, we were on the air three nights and we had launched The Simpsons. It was a big, big hit. It was by far the most successful thing we had ever done. Everybody was talking about it. We were still a tiny little network, and The Simpsons was our No. 1 show, but in its first year probably the No. 4 show overall in the weekly ratings.
We were sitting in the scheduling room. I was president of the network at that time, and Barry Diller was still with the company. So, it was me, Barry, Rupert and Jamie Kellner and some others. And we were going over the scheduling.
On the network schedules, you had these squares on a big magnetic board and you’d move them around. Rupert loved to push the squares around. I’d joke with him about this. You know the greatest toy a billionaire could have is a magnetic board with the schedule.
Rupert has this funny, sly little grin. He took the Simpsons square and moved it against The Cosby Show. That was the time when Cosby was by such a huge margin the No. 1 show on television. It was the single most powerful thing in the television industry — and we were all sort of shocked. We were a weak little network, and NBC had the number one show with one of the sitcom icons of all time.
And Rupert just sort of said: “Trust me, it will get us more attention. The show is going to do just fine, and will get us so much attention you can’t imagine.”
We all debated it and we all finally said, “Let’s try it.” It became one of the seminal moments of the Fox Broadcasting Co., but also one of the great moments of broadcasting, because that moment more than anything is what really made Fox into the fourth network. It basically announced to the world this little upstart is willing to take on the No. 1 network and the No. 1 show. Within a few years, The Cosby Show had been canceled. And 21 years later, The Simpsons are still on the air.”