If you needed more evidence that politics have become entertainment look no further than Showtime’s new limited series, The Loudest Voice. A scheme in 1995 to capture the conservative consumer manifested into the entity known as Fox News. Today, Fox News is truly the loudest voice in conservative politics and the source of anger for many on the left. Yet, this show isn’t exactly about Fox News, but its founder, Roger Ailes. He started the network in 1995 and crafted it to compete with the new MSNBC. He felt the left was well covered while the conservative voice was his for the taking. The limited series stars a sharp list of talent lead by Russell Crowe and includes Sienna Miller, Seth MacFarlane, Annabelle Wallis, and Naomi Watts.
The series is trying to fit the whole history of the network into seven episodes. The source material is a book, The Loudest Voice in Room, which documents the rise and eventual fall of Ailes. Only two episodes have aired, but the series highlights key moments by moving through time rather quickly in order to pack it all in. Within in this, we have seen a lot of what made Ailes a strong force within Newscorp and has shown the beginnings of his abusive relationships with women.
The series uses title cards and character introductions helping to track of the action. Shown as pause screens or a fuzzy broadcast signal these titles card cutaways can, at times, take you out of the narrative because it breaks your attention so abruptly. The early digital aesthetic fits the time period, it feels as though the series is on fast forward. Only when someone pushes play do we get to see the action, but not for long. The next action picks up for what sometimes is only a few scenes.
Moving through this much story in a tight timeline is tricky. The series’ structure highlights specific years. The episode titles are simply the years, but that may be enough to explain their significance. 2008 and 2016 marked landmark elections, with Ailes passing also in 2016. The Ailes driven Fox News stance approaches news through a heroes and villains approach to craft better television theatrics, yet seeing behind this particular curtain is a bit daunting. Fast forward this story long enough and you find Fox News is at the top of the news ratings. This story looks to ask and answer why. Though, you might not like the answer.
The Ailes They Knew
The story is moving linearly towards a few key points in Fox News history to showcase Ailes during his peak moments. Ailes is showed as a bully and a wise sage while being a a tough guy with a family who is actively cheating on his wife. Ailes’ wife, Beth is the unrecognizable, Sienna Miller, who understands and overly trusts her husband. Miller’s performance is detailed and nuanced and she begins to show how she can love such a complicated man. With this, Miller and Crowe join the list of other major film stars looking to shine in the TV landscape. These roles are transformative for both and they play off each other well. The second episode focuses on the day of and the aftermath of 9/11. Trialed throughout the episode, both actors craft strong and emotional performances.
The next key player in the Fox News story is Brian Lewis, played by Seth MacFarlane. Best known for being the brains behind Family Guy, MacFarlane recently traversed the universe with his sci-fi series, The Orville. Yet, here MacFarlane is not in his usual multi-hyphenate role, but simply part of the cast. This allows him to share is first outing into true dramatic work. Lewis acts as the right-hand-man to Ailes, though eventually was fired around 2013. Within the first few episodes, his character sits left of center, but expect more to come from MacFarlane as his character turns on the network he worked to build.
The other side of the Aile’s story is the women. In particular, the show explores two women in his life. His longtime mistress, Laurie Luhn (Wallis) and Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson. Ailes gets tipped off the top of the totem pole when Carlson moves to expose his mistreatment of her throughout her time at Fox News. Pre-#MeToo, Carlson was one of only a handful of women who look to take the misogynistic and abusive practice in the world of media. Now years later this story feels relevant to an audience that is seeking an in-depth briefing on how far many of these men went to control the women around them. As the story is set-up in the first two episodes, these relationships are building, primarily with Laurie Luhn, so this drama is far from over.
The Ailes You Know
The Loudest Voice fits the current dramatic moment of TV perfectly. Gone are the days when a protagonist needs to be a good guy. The prestige TV inclinations of this series imposes the idea that this show has a responsibility to the American public to share who Ailes really was and how he invented Fox News. Ailes is the perfect prestige TV star, focusing on someone who deserves to fall from grace. It’s doubtful that many Fox News loyalists will find their way to this show, though. So, The Loudest Voice preaches to the choir in some regard to showcase an abuse-of-power story many already know. Still, within the TV landscape, politics are selling.
Since Ailes’ death, his story lies in the hands of the history writers. The series, along with the source material, wants to be the definitive view on the Ailes empire. It remains to be seen if this show will change perceptions on the Roger Ailes legacy or his greatest invention, Fox News.