Roger Ailes had his game face on last week. As he introduced My Network TV, Fox's new broadcast network that was whipped up to challenge the WB/UPN-spawned CW for the affection of ladies age 18-34, the Fox News chairman and station-group honcho cracked that he was going to “send a thank-you note to Les Moonves.”
Ever the showman, Ailes wanted the assembled to believe that, when CBS Corp. and Time Warner partnered to form The CW—thus orphaning nine Fox-owned UPN affiliates in such major markets as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas—it was actually an act of largesse on the part of the CBS chairman.
Then there was Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy's unintentionally hilarious introduction to the network's centerpiece soaps—the steamy telenovela knock-offs Desire and Secrets—complete with deadpan descriptions of their sordid characters that drew spontaneous chuckles from reporters and a full-on crack-up from one of the actresses on stage.
(The next day's headline in the Wall Street Journal—“New Network Will Showcase Greed, Lust, Sex”—left many of us in the B&C newsroom wondering if we were reading The Onion.)
Even higher up the food chain, News Corp. President/COO Peter Chernin declared with a straight face, “We tailored this network to be profitable from day one.”
I must say, I love the moxie of these News Corp. guys. They never fail to put the “show” in showbiz. And that's the lesson to draw from My Network TV.
Forget that stations rarely become anything but less profitable when they lose network affiliation. And forget that no one has ever been successful at bringing soaps in the telenovela mode to American prime time TV.
And never mind that the My Network TV launch looks undeniably slapdash, with its development slate chock-a-block with reality shows that seem either stolen from MTV (Celebrity Love Island) or cloned from someone else's good ideas (Catwalk: “the ultimate search for the next 'It' supermodel). On Scene, the network's nightly newsmagazine to be spun out of Fox News, hardly seems like the thing to draw those young female audiences that advertisers love so much.
Out of the gate, this operation seems way behind The CW programming-wise, given the latter's plan to draw on established series from UPN and The WB.
Still, the unlikelihood that few if any of these My Network TV shows will work long term is less important than the determination and drive of the folks behind the operation. As Chernin reminded those at the press conference, News Corp. has played the long odds and won out many times on his watch. Remember, the launches of both Fox News Channel and FX were met with snickers, just as the arrival of Fox Broadcasting as “the fourth network” was in 1986. Who's laughing now?
News Corp.'s capo di tutti capi, Rupert Murdoch, has built one of the world's largest media empires by repeatedly bucking conventional wisdom. It's the credo of his whole operation, and that's a good thing for the business.
Even Moonves told financial analysts on a conference call while touting The CW's prospects that “nobody should underestimate Roger Ailes.”
My Network TV may prove to be a bridge too far for a company with no shortage of hubris. But I wouldn't bet on it.
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