Does Rupert Murdoch Merit a Spot in the TV Hall of Fame?

Murdoch Television Academy Hall of Fame

The media mogul has certainly altered the landscape of television, but not always for the better

Inducting Rupert Murdoch into the Television Academy Hall of Fame on March 11 sounds like a no-brainer. Few have done more in the past 30 years to reshape the TV business, from the launch of the Fox broadcasting network to the fledgling outfit’s poaching of rights to the NFL (and temporarily the Emmys) to introducing Fox News Channel.

On closer inspection, though, Murdoch’s legacy is more complicated than that, inviting questions about what a Hall of Fame is intended to do. Because while News Corp.’s contributions have been significant under Rupe’s stewardship, they have also done much to divide the public — and frequently led TV down a path of dubious standards and questionable taste.

It’s worth noting that Halls of Fame in the world of sports, which provide the most obvious and familiar example of such honors, generally look harshly at those perceived to have sullied an otherwise exemplary career on the field.

Pete Rose, the all-time leader in hits, remains an outsider at Major League Baseball’s HOF because he bet on games. A similar debate has raged over the induction of steroid users, whose exploits might have been artificially inflated through chemical means.

In some respects Murdoch’s approach to programming and deal-making has at times felt like TV on steroids, exemplifying a win-at-all-costs attitude, throwing on provocative concepts and sorting out the damage later. For every “The Simpsons,” “24” or “American Idol,” there’s been a “How to Marry a Multimillionaire,” “Temptation Island” or “When Animals Attack,” which at the time prompted then-NBC chief Don Ohlmeyer to deride such fare as being “one step short of a snuff film.”

There’s no arguing that Fox has “revolutionized the television landscape with groundbreaking shows,” as the TV academy states. Yet one can make a case the network’s signature series broke less ground, and did less to change and define the medium, than did its programs that not only lowered the bar but coarsened the national debate, while exalting notoriety every bit as much as fame.

Admittedly, the TV industry would have reached these extremes eventually — Paddy Chayefsky’s jaw-dropping prescience in penning “Network” predicted a lot of it — but Fox clearly led the race toward the bottom on several fronts, almost gleefully pursuing button-pushing boundaries that execs knew would garner attention by setting off alarms regarding the direction in which television was headed.

Setting aside politics, Fox News has also been an especially divisive force. Conservative defenders will say the network represents a corrective tonic to a liberally skewed media, but the wider impact of Fox has been to help stratify news into cocooned-off echo chambers, fostering an entrenched us-vs.-them mentality that has essentially paralyzed the body politic. Moreover, as commentators such as David Frum have noted, measuring Fox News’ effect on the recent presidential election, the self-serving nature of the network and its need to reach a relatively small audience insures that Fox News thrives even if its success comes at the expense of its ideological allies.

Murdoch’s use of his various assets to buttress each other and advance his corporate TV and publishing interests has been well documented. Indeed, if concerns about the dangers and abuses of media consolidation have at times felt overstated, Rupe’s behavior has gone a long way toward stoking and validating those fears.

Finally, there’s the phone-hacking scandal that has plagued Murdoch’s newspapers and eventually prompted him to shut down one of his U.K. tabloids, the News of the World. That action followed a period of stonewalling and denials, and has clouded the mogul’s larger legacy, leaving behind lingering questions about the company’s buccaneering culture.
If the goal is strictly to recognize influence, Murdoch sails into TV’s Hall of Fame on the first ballot. But unlike his fellow inductees, his is a thornier history.

Held in the balance, Murdoch probably deserves the accolade. His footprint is simply too overwhelming to ignore.

But like more than one Hall of Famer in the modern era, it’s an entry that warrants at least an asterisk.

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  1. Midge Baker says:

    The TV Hall of Infamy, maybe…

  2. lindsey dean says:

    uh, I rest my case… P.S. do you see any antlers on my head? lol

  3. John Galt says:

    For those of you who criticize Murdoch: What a bunch of hypocritical sissies. And you think CNN and MSNBC are “fair?” Give me a break. Sure he has some tack shows, but “The Bachelor” isn’t exactly dignified programing either.

    Let’s see, he brought us Fox, Fox Sports, Fox News, Fox Business, FX. I think that puts him in there. Problem is you people can’t stand it when someone makes money. He doesn’t hate America. I’d like to know where you get that idea.

    Has he made mistakes? Sure who hasn’t. But the man build a network where none were. You don’t like him? Don’t watch his stations.

  4. Julia says:

    Admitting Murdoch to the Hall of Fame would be worse than your example of Pete Rose, or even Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa. What he has done is to take something that used to be objective news reporting and turn it into an ugly perversion of the actual news to promote his own ideological whims. He has done more damage to our culture and our society than all of the other changes combined.
    It would make the Hall of Fame a very bad joke.

  5. Tony says:

    He could replace the doormat: but that may be; to the doormat

  6. Robert Anything says:

    I think this guy in HITLER in drag. He is trying to take over all of the newspapers(only a few left), magazines and tv stations to spread his particular crap and biased point of view. Does he belong in the H of F no, but possibly a concentration camp.

  7. Curt says:

    Oh, get over yourself. The fact of the matter is you’re part of the “liberal media” and you don’t like Fox News. Fine, and you’re going to use your power to put Murdoch and his work down over political differences. That’s obvious to us all but that doesn’t mean we can’t call you on it, hypocrite.

    • lindsey dean says:

      You overlook some other facts about Mr. Murdoch… his hacking the phone of the parents of murdered teen Milly Dowler in a London hotel room. New Int’l goes under after the massive phone hacking scandal. Months long FBI investigation into allegations of bribery by officials of a Russian subsidiary of News Corp. John Ryley, the head of Sky News, admits to authorizing journalist to hack into emails of private citizens. Admits to a cover-up of abuses at News of the World. British lawmakers investigate phone hacking at News of the World and state at conclusion, “Mr. Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company. It’s okay that you think he deserves this award, but it merely shows your values are different from most – and that’s okay too; I just hope I never come in contact with you.

  8. He deserves to be inducted, period.

    • lindsey dean says:

      You can probably buy all kinds of awards when you have 13.5 billion dollars and are the 78th richest person in the world. he didn’t wind this on merit; we know his reputation for hatred and exploitation. He’s an Australian with a deep-seated grudge (envy) of America and Great Britain – the main stages for his “dirty work.”

  9. laura says:

    You said “setting aside politics” and then go on to complain that they are politically divisive.

  10. IguanaHollywood says:

    Thank you for the article. There’s nothing brilliant or genius about making a living exploiting the tawdry side of humanity. “He is just mediocre”. Is there a category for that?

  11. Roger Smith says:

    Bravo, Mr. Lowry! Not simply for reminding Variety’s readers of Mr. Murdoch’s numerous sins of serious commission and his–on balance–deleterious effect on the narrow world of broadcasting, the larger world of journalism and indeed the universe of politics and culture. Many, for ideological reasons, would applaud your stance. But my praise is for the “fair and balanced” way you drew up your bill of particulars. In a short space, you made all fair-minded people realize just how Fox and Fox News have coarsened the dialogue in America in a host of irreparable ways. Of course, hardened cynics like Mr. Murdoch and his supporters will point to the combined market value of News Corp. and 21st Century Fox–$80 billion–and say that there is nothing more to say. But that is the judgment of the marketplace. The Television Academy does not need to add its modest distinction by placing Rupert Murdoch in its Hall of Fame.

  12. Jesse Skeen says:

    For launching the Fox network, which brought The Bug to US broadcast TV and killed off many great independent TV stations, I would say Mr. Murdoch belongs in TV’s Hall of Shame.

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