John Cleese excoriated modern U.S. comedies, described Donald Trump as farcical and skewered Rupert Murdoch during a lively, humorous and wide-ranging Q&A at the Sarajevo Film Festival on Thursday.Cleese was honored the night before with the Honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award for “his extraordinary contribution to the art of film” ahead of an open-air screening of his 1988 comedy “A Fish Called Wanda.”Discussing the current state of comedy, Cleese said changing demographics had led U.S. studios to produce mostly juvenile, lowbrow...
Rupert Murdoch became the preeminent media mogul of his era thanks to his willingness to make enormous bets on startups and acquisitions, and his zeal for exerting considerable influence in the political arena.
Murdoch built an empire on the back of a single daily newspaper in his native Australia after inheriting the business from his father in 1954. Today, his 21st Century Fox and News Corporation have worldwide reach through an array of film, TV, digital and publishing operations. He retains iron-clad control of both companies through his preferred stock holdings and his role as executive chairman. His net worth is estimated by Forbes at $12 billion.
Murdoch formally turned the keys to 21st Century Fox over to sons James and Lachlan as of July 1, 2015. But he was pressed into service in July 2016 as CEO of Fox News following the sexual harassment scandal that drove Roger Ailes out of the division that is a vital profit engine for the parent company.
Murdoch’s rise began in the 1960s with an aggressive push to launch or acquire newspaper assets in Australia (The Daily Mirror, the Australian) and the U.K. (The Sun, The Times and Sunday Times). By the early 1980s, Murdoch had set his sights on the U.S., starting with the purchase of the New York Post and his first investment in 20th Century Fox.
By 1985, Murdoch owned the Fox studio outright and began buying TV stations to serve as the backbone of his biggest gamble yet: the launch of a fourth network to challenge the entrenched TV establishment. Fox Broadcasting Co. survived its rocky early years and went on to change the face of American television, while Murdoch’s veritically integrated strategy of marrying network and studio operations has been the template for media conglomerates ever since. Fox’s TV footprint expanded rapidly with the launch of Fox Sports, Fox News, FX and numerous cable channels included a worldwide TV partnership with National Geographic.
In the 1990s Murdoch saw the global opportunity in satellite-delivered television. He defied skeptics by pouring resources into the British Sky Broadcasting startup (now known as Sky), and he made News Corporation a pioneer in pay-TV distribution in India, China and other international markets. 21st Century Fox is in the process of acquiring full ownership of Sky, albeit not without spirited debate in the U.K. about the concentration of assets under Murdoch control.
Murdoch’s stumbles included the acquisition of MySpace in 2005, just as the pioneering social media platform was being eclipsed by rival Facebook. He fought hard and paid handsomely to acquire Wall Street Journal parent Dow Jones & Co. in 2007.
Murdoch has never been a stranger to controversy, whether it be over his sharp elbows in dealmaking, the political agendas waged by some of his newspapers or the envelope-pushing programming that put Fox on the map.
Murdoch faced his biggest challenge in 2011 after outrage swelled in Britain amid evidence that reporters for Murdoch newspapers had engaged in phone-hacking of celebrities and other figures in the news. The uproar forced Murdoch to shutter the tabloid News of the World. It also derailed his earlier effort to acquire full control of Sky, and it ultimately spurred the decision to carve up erstwhile News Corporation in 2013 into separate publicly traded entities: the TV and film-centric 21st Century Fox and the publishing-focused News Corporation. The following year, 21st Century Fox surprised the industry with an unsolicited $80 billion bid for Time Warner.
At 86, Murdoch may have stepped aside as CEO of 21st Century Fox, but his stature in business and political circles is undiminished.