Ailes to Join Limbaugh in Television Venture
Are Hollywood liberals, riding high with such television series as “Murphy Brown” and “Designing Women,” ready for a counterattack?
It could come soon if “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” starring the conservative radio host, goes into TV syndication as planned in 1992. Multimedia Entertainment expects initial support from more than 100 stations to make the series a reality.
What is intriguing is the behind-the-scenes casting as well: Roger Ailes, who was George Bush’s TV adviser in the 1988 presidential race, now is Limbaugh’s executive producer.
Limbaugh is the darling of a vast daily audience that delights in his potshots at the political left, but he is not funny to many who vehemently oppose his expressed views about gays, the homeless and liberals.
Ailes, who also coached Richard Nixon, says, “I’ve been attacked for my political views all my life"--and he makes no bones about his belief that the press is unsympathetic to conservatives.
“If I announced I was doing a TV show with Jane Fonda,” he said in an interview, “there would be no concern at all.”
He added: “I would say that Rush may be as far right as Phil Donahue is far left. The press doesn’t choose to identify Phil Donahue as far left, but I would say that’s true.”
Although Ailes regards Limbaugh as an “entertainer"--a description that the radio host has applied to himself--it is foolish to believe that the conservative commentator’s political views are not the core of his appeal, despite the show-business know-how that gives them bite.
And Ailes, who showed undeniable skill in guiding Bush’s media campaign, just may be sensing some emotional reactions by the public to the creative winds blowing through TV.
Just this week, Barney Rosenzweig, the admittedly liberal executive producer of “Cagney & Lacey” and “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill,” found himself grilled on CNN’s “Crossfire” about the views of Hollywood creators.
Pat Buchanan, a “Crossfire” regular as well as a columnist and longtime political figure, has decided to seek the presidency to press conservative matters. And several decidedly conservative newsletters have mounted unrelenting attacks on the liberal Establishment that undeniably plays a big part of Hollywood entertainment--just as far-right executives and stars once dominated the industry.
“Murphy Brown” creator Diane English said bluntly in an interview in the Journal of the Writers Guild: “Murphy Brown is a character with a distinctly liberal point of view.”
She added: “There’s no question we’ve been very, very hard on the Republicans, but that’s because they’re the administration that’s been in power--and will likely be--for the life of ‘Murphy Brown.’ If the Democrats were in power, we’d be equally hard on them.”
An intriguing possibility--almost enough to make you hope a Democrat is elected president in 1992.
One of the attacks on Hollywood liberals comes from L. Brent Bozell, chairman of the conservative Media Research Center in Alexandria, Va., and publisher of a newsletter about TV.
“As purveyors of politically correct ideology,” he says, “producers are using television as a forum. They inject their leftist views into prime-time programs to ‘enlighten’ America to their own version of political truth.”
Bozell blasted last month’s episode of “Designing Women” in which characters of the sitcom debated the televised Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings that were part of the confirmation proceedings of the Supreme Court justice.
Another conservative newsletter that focuses on Hollywood and the media, “Between the Lines,” skewered the same “Designing Women” episode, concluding: “For a small but exceedingly privileged group of Hollywood liberals to . . . use the federally sanctioned airwaves for a one-sided denunciation of the outcome (of the hearings) is outrageous.”
Into this politically ripe television scenario comes Limbaugh, who expects to debut in September with a nightly half-hour that would compete with such entertainers as Jay Leno--after he takes over “The Tonight Show"--and Arsenio Hall.
Ailes has already come out swinging, saying that Limbaugh “kids liberals, but they don’t have a sense of humor when it comes to themselves. Yet they laugh when Johnny Carson does a Dan Quayle joke.”
Ailes says he remains friends with Bush. But the former presidential TV adviser now has a new client, Limbaugh, who in some ways stirs up emotions with his views even more than the man in the White House.
In March, 1990, for instance, Limbaugh dropped in for a night at CBS Television City here as guest host for the ill-fated late-hour “Pat Sajak Show.” His admirers were there, but so were his foes, and the tryout came off as tense and uncomfortable.
Anyone who has heard Limbaugh plow through his opponents on radio with devastating mockery knows that he has the potential to be an explosive TV force.
“I really do view Rush as an entertainer,” Ailes says.
But don’t call me for his tap dance. Let me know when he has that roundtable shootout with the Rev. Donald Wildmon, Diane English and “Designing Women’s” Linda Bloodworth-Thomason.