SYDNEY — Despite reports to the contrary, Rupert Murdoch is flesh and blood. His longtime exec, Tom Warne, can vouch for that, having watched his jet-lagged boss fall asleep at the dinner table at the mogul’s farm near Canberra in 1986.
The two were running through Warne’s programming schedule for the Ten Network. Ken Cowley, then chairman of News Ltd. Australia, gently woke Rupert to suggest he go to bed.
At lunch on the homestead’s veranda the following day, Warne told Murdoch about a series that had enjoyed huge ratings in the 1970s on Melbourne’s GTV-9. “Wanted” featured re-enactments of real-life crimes and Warne cloned the show when he was programming in Perth.
Not long after, Murdoch launched “America’s Most Wanted,” which became a staple on his Fox web in the U.S.
Now Murdoch must do without the man who has been his loyal and trusted foot soldier for 24 years.
Warne retired July 7, age 65, after a 50-year media career. (As a mark of respect, Murdoch and son Lachlan invited Warne and wife Jan to the U.S. for a farewell lunch during the L.A. Screenings in May.) For the past 13 years, Warne has been in charge of Fox Intl. TV’s distribution operations in the Asia/Pacific region, covering 27 territories. His successor is longtime lieutenant Richard Samuels.
A former radio announcer, he helped launch TV channels in Hobart, Tasmania and the northern New South Wales town of Coffs Harbor, and he was a programmer in Adelaide and Perth soon after stations began in those markets.
It sounds quaint nowadays, but in those early years he would knock on doors asking folks what they liked and didn’t like on TV and often was guided by their preferences.
An affable and avuncular character, he furthered the careers of three guys who became top programmers at the commercial networks: John Stephens (Seven), David Mott (Ten) and Ric Burns (who moved from Seven to run the Disney Channel in Oz).
He met Murdoch in 1979 when Rupe took over the Ten web, and he joined Ten’s Melbourne channel as its programmer.
Fox/News Corp. colleagues called on Warne’s programming expertise when they launched the Sky paybox in the U.K., News Broadcasting Japan and Foxtel in Australia.
The help and suggestions Warne gave his boss over the years came in handy on at least one other memorable occasion.
In 1983, Murdoch asked him to get lists of all the films and TV programs then owned by the various majors. It was a laborious task, met with much enthusiasm by studio reps who wrongly thought Warne, then at Melbourne’s Channel 10, was about to negotiate a big acquisition deal with them.
Via lengthy telexes, Warne sent Murdoch laundry lists of each major’s library.
Not long after, Warne was in Aspen, Colo., for one of News Corp.’s regular summits when Murdoch disappeared for half a day.
“That evening we were at a restaurant when Murdoch returned wearing a big black cowboy hat and announced he had been with Marvin Davis and had purchased 50% of Fox,” says Warne.
“He is one of those people who has a clear understanding of what ordinary people want. And once he decides to do something, he never hesitates.”
For now, Warne intends to take a break with Jan and to resume his hobby of painting. He used to paint at weekends when he was a programmer to relieve the tension, but gave that up while he was with Fox.
However, his retirement may be short-lived. Both Murdoch and Fox Intl. TV prez Mark Kaner are keen to lure him back to Fox in some capacity.