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Hall of Fame
January 23, 2018

Rupert Murdoch: Hall of Fame Tribute

An Appreciation by James L. Brooks (as told to Valerie J. Nelson)


There are all of these urban legends about Rupert Murdoch, media baron. One that is probably accurate: He's risked everything several times over as he's built his empire. One trait that has enabled him to emerge from the pack in such a monumental way is his courage. He's the opposite of risk-averse. Great risk seems to bring something out in him. That proved true as he created the Fox Network. Even when the network was on the verge of bankruptcy in the early years, business was still conducted as if everything was perfectly fine. It's like they tried to insulate those of us on the creative side from any sort of panic.

The Fox Network ended up changing television, and it did so by choosing to be edgy from the start. When its first primetime sitcom, Married ... with Children, debuted in 1987, the show pushed the boundaries of what was allowed on network television. It actually parodied the very notion of a middle-class suburban sitcom. The Bundy family was outrageous. They yelled a lot and used some pretty offensive language. But the show was hilarious, and it helped lay the foundation for the idea that a network could be known for taking risks. There's that word again.

As a fledgling network, Fox took the stage and cast a big light. In 1990, it spawned a comedy-variety show, In Living Color, which dripped with biting satire — and future big names — as it filtered pop culture through an African-American lens. Once again, a Fox show stood out for being different. The Simpsons joined the lineup that same year — and we were an expensive roll of the dice for a network then in deep financial trouble. There hadn't been a prime-time animated show on television in 20 years, but Fox took a gamble on us. I don't think anybody else would have done that.

Obviously, Rupert and The Simpsons are poles apart politically. We try to be equal-opportunity satirists, but the amazing thing is the free rein we've been given over the last quarter-century. One of our favorite targets is Fox News, but we never, ever hear a word about it. We once had Bart Simpson confess that he dreamed his "whole family was just cartoon characters, and that our success had led to some crazy propaganda network called Fox News." We showed a Fox News crawl asking if "Democrats cause cancer?" and proclaiming that, "JFK has posthumously joined the Republican party." Sure it's satire, but it can sting. All it takes to shut it down is a memo. But we never got that memo, and that speaks volumes.

As an actor, Rupert is weirdly good. He's been on The Simpsons three times. Most of the time he's making fun of himself, and he delivers his lines with zeal. In a Super Bowl-themed episode, the animated version of Rupert, voiced by the man himself, emphatically introduces himself to Bart by saying, "I'm Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire tyrant, and this is my skybox!" He's so funny I end up thinking, "We need to get this guy on the show more."

I have no direct contact with Rupert. Still, just to amuse myself, I sometimes write faux Welsh working-men songs about him, which I sing on the way to the writing room. They always start with the same line, "I work for Rupert Murdoch, just like most blokes do."

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive officer of 21st Century Fox, has been a broadcasting pioneer since the mid-1980s, when he founded the Fox Broadcasting Co. Fox, once known as "the fourth network," is home to such hit programs as The Following and New Girl in addition to The Simpsons. In 1994, Murdoch formed Fox Sports and two years later launched the cable channel Fox News, then FX, FXX and Fox Sports 1. His vast portfolio also includes Britain's first satellite broadcasting operation BSkyB, India's leading television network Star TV, and major pay-television platforms Sky Italia and Sky Deutschland. He is also one of the creators and founders of Hulu.

Emmy and Oscar-winning producer-director-writer James L. Brooks is a member of the Television Academy Hall of Fame. He helped develop and is an executive producer of the long-running animated Fox comedy The Simpsons.


This tribute originally appeared in the Television Academy Hall of Fame program celebrating Rupert Murdoch's induction in 2014.

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