2:03pm PT by Hilary Lewis
'Loudest Voice' Team Hopes Viewers See Roger Ailes Series as a "Cautionary Tale"
When Roger Ailes resigned from Fox News in 2016, it was amid a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations being leveled against him by various women. But before his fall from grace, the Fox News CEO, who died in 2017, was a media titan and influential political figure.
Promotional materials for Showtime's upcoming limited series The Loudest Voice, based on the 2014 Gabriel Sherman book of the same name, have touched on these various aspects of Ailes' persona. But how much is the series, which will air over seven weeks starting Sunday, about Ailes' political influence and how much is it about his alleged inappropriate behavior towards women?
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter at the Loudest Voice premiere earlier this week at New York's Paris Theatre, showrunner Alex Metcalf explained that the series, in exploring who Ailes was, had to include his personal relationships.
"It's Roger's story over the last 20 years of his life, basically, over his 20-year career at Fox News," Metcalf said. "It's the story of Roger Ailes, the underdog driving to build Fox at a time where nobody really thought he could do it. Nobody believed in him. And he really, through the power of his own personality, got Fox on the air in six months, it was incredible. And then built it within five years to become the No. 1 news network, sort of out of nowhere, simply based on his own understanding of entertainment and what audiences wanted to see as well as his understanding of who his audience was. Those things together sort of blew the whole network up. The fact of Roger's personal relationships, both with his son, his wife, with the women — I mean, that's just a part of who he was. I don't think you can disassociate. In the same way that Fox News was Roger Ailes, all of the different sides of Roger — the public man, the private man — you can't separate them. They're all of a piece."
Sherman agrees, explaining that he felt obligated to include Ailes' alleged sexual misconduct in the series.
"To only focus on the #MeToo would be doing a disservice to how he changed the country, but at the same time, his abuse of power at Fox and being brought down from that, really triggered the entire #MeToo movement and really spurred it along," he told THR. "So we really felt it was important, in the later episodes, that really becomes a much bigger part of the series."
Naomi Watts, who plays former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, whose sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes led more women to come forward with claims about the media titan's inappropriate behavior, highlighted Carlson's influence when she spoke about the series.
"Gretchen Carlson inadvertently took down one of the most powerful men in media, and, in that, she created a story of female empowerment," said the actress. "That is deeply impressive, and for any woman, I think, particularly the next generation, because now everybody's listening. So many women had to endure things for such a long time and now it's not tolerated. So I think this is a very powerful, uplifting — obviously there's a lot of darkness along the way, but it's an important story and feels very current."
Carlson, who wasn't involved with the production of the show due to an NDA that kept her from speaking about her experience at Fox, posed for photos with Watts at Monday night's premiere and spoke to the press about the series' power in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
"The idea that it's on the national scene for people to see — it's going to empower a lot of women to know that it's OK for them to come forward," Carlson told THR. "And it's also going to educate the general public about how difficult these choices are and what millions of women are facing in the workplace every single day."
Inside the theater, Showtime entertainment co-president Gary Levine praised Carlson as he introduced the first episode, which doesn't include Watts' Carlson, saying that her "bravery helped this story come to light," which was greeted with a hearty round of cheers and applause.
Carlson said she'd so far only seen trailers for the series, calling the previews "incredibly compelling," but indicated she would be watching the show.
"You have to understand that there's a tremendous amount of emotion wrapped up in this for me and my story, so I'm very much looking forward to seeing the whole series," she said.
Those involved with The Loudest Voice, including the man who plays Ailes himself, Russell Crowe, said they hoped Fox News staffers and some of the series' other subjects watch the show.
"I'm sure they will," Crowe told THR. "And I'm sure in true Fox News fashion, they will just salute us and thank us for all the extra PR and advertising."
Josh Stamberg, who plays former Fox News executive Bill Shine, told THR, "It's going to be interesting to see what [Shine's] response is," adding that he reached out to the former White House communications director but Shine didn't "really" or "directly" talk to him. Instead, the actor said he prepared in part by speaking with an acquaintance who "knew Roger Ailes very well and, in turn, knew Bill Shine, and I had many, many long pages of very intricate questions, and I was fortunate to get answers to a lot of those."
Stamberg said he also spoke to "some other journalists and White House correspondents who'd dealt with [Shine], so I was able to take a real deep dive in addition to my own online research — firsthand stuff that really help me get into, I hope, the psyche of him."
As for what viewers take away from the series, the Loudest Voice team said they hoped it would provide a greater understanding of the current political and media environment.
"I hope we've been smart enough to lay out the cards in such a way that people are able to make up their own mind about the situation, or they're able to see and understand a bit deeper the reasons behind what they experienced in the last 20 years and how we get to where we are now," Crowe said.
Added Metcalf, "I would love people to take away and understand the power of media when it's driven by a singular ideological vision and I think the days of any news organization being unbiased are gone. That's the world we live in now, and I think Fox was at the forefront of that and the biggest proponent of that, and Fox, through Roger, creating the media landscape we live in."
"We're in an incredibly unusual place right now, in American politics and European politics — some people are happy about it, others are upset about it," said producer Jason Blum. "But what you can't argue about it is that it's very strange. And the show is about trying to answer how we got to this place. There are a lot of reasons how we got to this place — there's not one single answer. But the show attacks one big reason of how we got here and one big, big reason of how we arrived where we are today, and that's Roger Ailes."
Blum, whose production banner Blumhouse is known for horror films like Get Out and The Purge, indicated he hopes audiences are frightened by Ailes' story, as well.
"I hope people see it as a cautionary tale," he said, before offering, "I'm sure 41 percent of people won't see it that way."