Ailes defends Fox News incentive strategy

Roger Ailes, the bombastic chairman of Fox News and its fledgling cable Fox News Channel, formally introduced his most high-profile hire, former ABC News White House correspondent Brit Hume, on Tuesday at the semiannual Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena.

And like his boss, it didn’t take Hume, who left ABC last year to join Fox News as its managing editor in Washington , very long to take the 24-hour cable news competition to task.

Asked about MSNBC, Hume said: “I don’t know what they do. They appear to be doing talk about news, which, in my judgment, America’s Talking (MSNBC’s predecessor) was much more creative and broad-gauged in doing. (MSNBC) hasn’t quite decided what they’re going to be.”

Hume added, “Having three or four people who think alike, sit around a table in a brick basement and talk about the news is not my idea of (getting it touch with) what America is talking about.”

Hume had kinder things to say about CNN, noting: “There are a lot of things that they do better than anybody else. Their crisis news is terrific. They’re on the scene fast, they’ve got good reporters and journalists.”

Yet Hume couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a swipe at CNN as well, saying, “In my judgment, I think they are perhaps a little dated.”

Ailes, who was remarkably well-behaved Tuesday, took a moment at the TCA session to note that FNC has since its Oct. 7 launch added two million new subscribers (bringing its total to 19 million) as well as bureaus in Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, Moscow Hong Kong, Jerusalem and London.

When the subject was raised about Fox News Channel’s much-publicized financial incentives to cable operators (News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch has paid MSOs $11 per subscriber for carriage), Ailes pointed out that Fox didn’t invent the idea of incentives for operators but merely “upped the ante to get into the game.”

An increasing number of operators are doing the same thing in the wake of Murdoch’s move, with new networks such as Discovery’s Animal Planet and Home & Garden Television successfully buying their way into the game in impressive numbers.

But Ailes refuses to feel guilty about it.

“It’s a question of how you choose to spend your money,” Ailes said. “Certainly, G.E. and Microsoft chose to spend theirs on putting their product on in a different way, and on spending an awful lot on inner activity. But there had also been dollars offered to operators several times in the past, and will be in the future.

“The thing is, (channel positions are) a scarce commodity, and the operators have a lot of power, and that’s one of the issues that they use to make their judgment.”

It was also announced Tuesday at TCA that Tony Dennison (formerly Anthony Dennison) has joined the permanent cast of Fox’s “Melrose Place” in the role of Jim Reilly, the father of Samantha (Brooke Langton) father. His first appearance will be March 17.

And actress/model Tyra Banks has been signed to guest star in a three-part arc of “New York Undercover” beginning Feb. 13. She will portray Natasha Clayborne, G’s (George Gore II) French teacher, who “breaks his heart when she misinterprets a love letter written in French as homework,” according to Fox.

In other news, the regional cable network Fox Sports Net will present a monthly series of boxing events entitled “Fight Time on Fox” that will be presented on Friday nights beginning this week at 8 p.m.

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