Peter Bart: Roger Ailes Tales Taint Murdoch Legacy, But 2020 Election Might Pose Peril For Fox News’ Populist Crusades

Roger Ailes, the man who monetized vitriol while helping to elect Donald Trump, is about to become a loud presence on the screen once again, but this time he won’t be running the show. Ailes is the lead character – indeed, the heavy – in both a Showtime series that premieres next week and a star-laden new movie.
At the opening of Loudest Voice, Ailes, having been fired from CNBC, spies the opportunity to invent a new channel that will appeal to “the 60% of America who believes the media is full of crap.” His anti-elitist thesis: “People want to feel informed but don’t want to be informed,” as he screams to Sean Hannity, “Don’t worry about what’s right or wrong” and never apologize for factual mistakes. If the lines seem heavy-handed, so arguably are the performances.
When other networks declined to run footage of 9/11 victims leaping from towers, Ailes screamed at his staff to run the footage. War meant strong ratings. Hence when 9/11 happened, Ailes was thrilled to single out Saddam Hussein as the ultimate heavy, and war with Iraq became the Fox News cause. “This is no time for politics, this is war,” Murdoch warns him (on the TV show), but Ailes assured him that war was just what the Fox News constituency yearned for.
Full disclosure: The Ailes I got to know over an occasional dinner was more Lithgow than Crowe – a charmingly ruthless operator who was convinced he understood his business better than his rivals. Viewers of TV news are similar to movie audiences, he argued, in that they need to identify a “bad guy” to help them focus on the story. “I’m a producer, like you,” he would tell me.
In Crowe’s hard-edge, tough-talking depiction, he is a committed ideologue of the hard right. Ailes, a liberal? Lithgow’s blueprint in playing Ailes was to depict a more quietly insidious character who also could turn on the charm.
Some former associates speculate that, had he been offered the job of running MSNBC instead of Fox News, he might have deployed his brash, tabloid-y style to shape that network – even politically. Ailes had already built a dubious reputation as a gun-for-hire political operative.
Will he watch these two shows about his former associate? And will he, like Ailes, also want to distance himself from the truth?” />
Caught up in his own ego and paranoia, Ailes never noticed the embers of rebellion. Women were chattels, who effectively carried "the message" to viewers with the understanding that they pay homage to their bosses, ideologically and sexually. Whenever I would drop by to meet with Ailes, Bill O’Reilly or other acquaintances at Fox News, I always felt I was checking into a boys club whose members rigorously complied with their boss’ autocratic code. The system worked, producing profits in the billions.
Jay Roach’s Roger Ailes Movie Gets Release Date From Lionsgate
The movie is directed by Jay Roach, who has brilliantly guided previous political thrill rides ranging from Game Change and Meet the Fockers. Together, the shows provide viewers with a white-knuckle ride through the News Corp landscape – one promising big rewards with even bigger risks.
The seven-part series is based on Gabriel Sherman’s book The Loudest Voice in the Room. In The Loudest Voice, which debuts June 30 on Showtime, Russell Crowe forcefully embodies the Fox News boss who terrifies colleagues, exploits leggy blond anchors and butchers the truth in his crusade to become the Godzilla of the news business. While fostering Trump’s base, Ailes also alternately delights and infuriates his bottom-line boss, Rupert Murdoch.
The formidable females are played by Charlize Theron (as Megyn Kelly), Nicole Kidman (Gretchen Carlson) and Margot Robbie as a fictional composite of other litigants. The second Ailes project, with a temp title of Fair and Balanced, focuses on the death-defying campaign of Fox’s star newsies to bring down Ailes’ butt-patting reign of terror. Lionsgate is distributing the film with John Lithgow as Ailes in December (Megan Ellison’s female-centric Annapurna Productions abruptly dropped out without explanation.)
But with 2020 looming, Fox News now might face blowback from viewers and advertisers if it plays as strident a role as it did two years ago. Indeed, he even might consider sale of his existing assets, including Fox News. Since Ailes loved good storytelling, he might have coveted the power-play details of these two shows – except, as Groucho Marx once observed, "I don’t intend to be present at my own funeral.” Murdoch likely was relieved when he finally fired Ailes in 2016. On the other hand, he’s never been as oblivious to facts as was his predecessor. Murdoch always felt it was good business to be allied with the winning side, but, having disposed of most of his media empire, he now might be less tied to that conviction. His son, Lachlan, supposedly has the ruling hand at Fox News, and he has made it known that he’s firmly on the right.
Indeed, he would have been the perfect “heavy” for that show as well. If he were alive to see these productions, Ailes surely would scream “I’m mad as hell” as loudly as Bryan Cranston’s character in Broadway's Network.

Jay Roach’s Roger Ailes-Fox News Movie Adds Brigette Lundy-Paine & Liv Hewson

Hewson will play Lily, the assistant to Theron's Megyn Kelly. Lundy-Paine will play the role of Julia Clarke in the Charles Randolph-scripted feature from Bron Studios that stars Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie as the women who took down the Fox News Channel chief who created a toxic male corporate culture.
Hewson is repped by UTA,  Aran Michael Management and Mosaic.
She also starred in the second season of BBC's Jane Campion-Gerard Lee drama series Top of the Lake. Her feature credits include Open Road's supernatural thriller Before I Fall based on Lauren Oliver’s YA best-seller and Sony Classics' Mark Turtletaub drama Puzzle opposite Kelly Macdonald. An Australian native, Hewson first came to the attention of American audiences as the daughter to Drew Barrymore's "mombie" on Santa Clarita Diet.
EXCLUSIVE: Jay Roach's untitled Roger Ailes movie has tapped two Netflix stars: Brigette Lundy-Paine from Atypical and Liv Hewson from Santa Clarita Diet.
Deadline exclusively reported both sets of news. The film is currently in production.” />
The actress' film credits include Alexander Payne's Downsizing and the Lionsgate drama The Glass Castle. Lundy-Paine is repped by The Gersh Agency. On Atypical, which was just picked up for a third season, Lundy-Paine plays Casey, the outspoken, younger sister and fierce protector of an autistic teenage boy.
They are also handling the pic's foreign sales. Lionsgate is currently in the midst of finalizing a domestic distribution and co-financing deal on the Roger Ailes-Fox News movie.

Annapurna President Of Film Chelsea Barnard Exits

14. 30, Adam McKay's Dick Cheney movie Vice going wide on Dec. Upcoming for Annapurna is Oscar winner Barry Jenkins' If Beale Street Could Talk on Nov. and the Nicole Kidman police drama Destroyer on Christmas Day.” />
Reilly western The Sisters Brothers is still early on in its limited release counting $730K. This summer's Sorry to Bother You which Annapurna acquired out of Sundance was a notable spot on the specialty circuit making $17.4M, the label's highest grossing film to date. Brad's Status last year ($2.1M), Professor Marston and the Wonder Women ($1.6M) and Joaquin Phoenix-John C. To date, Annapurna has had five releases, kicking off with Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit in July 28, 2017 which made $16.7M stateside, down from the Oscar winner's previous title Zero Dark Thirty ($95.7M domestic) which was produced by Annapurna. Others didn't fare so well, i.e.
President Marc Weinstock departed Annapurna back in June as Deadline reported. There are no immediate replacement plans for Barnard's post, and Annapurna boss Megan Ellison is expected to take a greater hand in the oversee of production. If there's any curiosity why there's been so much noise of fleeing projects today at Annapurna, it's because the studio and its head of film production Chelsea Barnard recently parted ways. Sources close to the company confirmed Barnard's exit. He too was not replaced and his duties delegated to senior leadership. We understand it was mutual and amicable and that Barnard was overseeing the Jennifer Lopez's Hustlers project and Jay Roach's Roger Ailes pic.
There were rumblings around town about Annapurna having some financial difficulty. We hear from insiders that they are re-calibrating, and that all is well. The budget on the Jay Roach film was headed north of $35M and the Jennifer Lopez project had been in turnaround for the last month.